“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27-28)
“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1)
The analogy of shepherds and sheep is one Jesus used often. The “Good Shepherd” made disciples, and told us to do likewise. There’s a connection between being shepherds and making disciples that simply does not exist between the preachers and converts of modern Christendom. He said His sheep would “hear His voice and follow Him,” and they did. Their Shepherd’s command made sense because they were also able to follow His example. The Good Shepherd balanced teaching with leading, and He ushered disciples into His kingdom. There is a message here for us.
The shepherd’s job is to lead his sheep through a balance of command and example. Telling sheep to do something without then leading confuses them, because sheep both hear AND follow their shepherds. The Good Shepherd knew this, and balanced His teaching with His life example. Yet, every Sunday our modern-day teachers plead with their sheep to leave the sheepfold without subsequently leading them. Their sheep hear. Most even understand the command, but the results of this approach are clear: they don’t go.
Perhaps this is why so many polls tell us we’re fairly effective at converting people, yet falling far short of the Great Commission. Preaching brings sheep opens the door to the kingdom, but a balance of leading and teaching ushers the in and keeps them growing. If sheep are led into conversion through what they hear, but left there for lack of a discipleship model to see they will remain what the Writer of Hebrews would call “babes”. Sheep gather with their shepherds, and go out with their shepherds. They go no further than their shepherds lead them, in both word AND deed. Jesus led His sheep as He taught them, and He made disciples of men. Temple leaders, both in Jesus’ day and now, hold to the flawed thinking that teaching and Bible study alone will accomplish this.
If I might steal a political concept, what we see from both Jesus’ method of preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and today’s preaching of the gospel of salvation is Jesus’ statement about shepherds and sheep being lived out in a trickle down effect of sheep just being good sheep. Think about it: when our future pastors go to seminary, and what do they hear? They hear all sorts of biblical teaching concerning what it means to be disciples. Ah, but what do they see? They see teachers in a classroom. And what is the measure of what they have learned? Passed exams. So they graduate from their classrooms and go start or join temples. What do they do? They set up the experience of their flocks as their professors set up their experience: teachers and students in a classroom. What is the phenomenon at play here? Good sheep following the lead of their shepherds, just as Jesus said! The sheep in seminary have now become the shepherds in their temples, and are just being good sheep of their seminary professors.
Follow this to the next levels of temple worship: this trickle-down then effects small groups where we do what? Gather in a room, listen to a message, pray, and sing songs just like we did in the temple only with a bit more intimacy. But it’s still the classroom model. This model finally trickles down to the guy sitting in the pew who rightfully comes to believe Christianity is about meeting in a classroom to forever learn without doing. At every level here the same phenomenon is at play: the average guy being a good sheep of the small group leader, who’s being a good sheep of the pastor, who’s being a good sheep of the seminary professor by doing what? “Hearing their voices AND following their lead!”
If you doubt this, ask yourself this question: “How is it temple sheep will go to the temple multiple times in a week for studies, services, practices, seminars, and fellowship yet we cannot seem to get them to go out no matter how much we prod, poke, and encourage? It’s because the temple is where their shepherds are, and so that’s where you will find them!
Now the good shepherd both taught AND led His disciples. When He left they played the good sheep and discipled others by both teaching and leading in balance. They weren’t bought up in the classroom, but in the community so that’s where you found them. They weren’t taught to be forever passive students in buildings, they were challenged to “Be perfect as their Teacher’s Father was perfect,” and as Paul taught, “To be ready for a better way even though they desired the greater gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31). Jesus constantly challenged His disciples to grow, mature, and even to do greater works than He did. So they went out and were just good sheep of their shepherd.
The trickle-down effect, like all other mandates of God, is not optional. Paul realized this, and so said what he said in 1 Corinthians above. It was about imitating and being imitated. Sheep will both hear AND follow the example of their shepherds. The difference is the example the shepherds are setting, and does it mirror their words? Do they lead people into the kingdom, or just preach at converts in their temples? Where the sheep gather is where the shepherds have led them, or not.