Shepherds False and True

A shepherd tended a flock of sheep on the hills  At night, they were herded into a sturdy sheep pen made of field stone. The pen was solid and protected them all from predators. The shepherd made perfunctory checks on the sheep each night and went through the motions of his job each day. No one could fault him  for not carrying out the basic tasks that he went through like clockwork. Every day, the same routines without fail. That was the job he got paid for.

At dawn one morning, an injured sheep showed up at the door of the pen, waking him with pitiful bleating. It was not his. He had no way to know where the sheep had come from. It was limping and blood was coming out of a wound.

The shepherd was annoyed.  He didn’t have time to deal with it. The animal looked like it was dying anyway and probably would wander off shortly into the trees. What was the point? The shepherd left the sheep lying against the stone wall and herded the rest of the flock briskly out of the pen to the water and grass on the hillsides. He realized he was already behind schedule.

Hours later when he got back to the pen with the sheep for the night, the injured sheep was still there, barely. The animal weakly lifted its head.  Its eyes implored the shepherd to help.

In disgust, the shepherd turned away.  He’d have to get rid of that mess soon or the carcass would draw wolves and vultures, not to mention flies.

Some of the other sheep looked curiously at the sick one as they filed into their safe, clean pen for the night. A couple stopped with sheeply concern, but the shepherd impatiently flicked them with his rod to get moving.

The shepherd was tired and decided to leave the bloody sheep to die outside the wall of the pen. He would deal with it in the morning. He completely forgot about the animal and dozed off immediately.

In the morning, the injured sheep was gone. Surprised, the shepherd looked around. He hadn’t thought the sheep could move enough to get away.  There was a trail of blood behind that led to a grove of trees down the road. What relief. He hadn’t had to deal with the mess. The sun was rising in the eastern sky. It looked like a beautiful day ahead.

He was leaning against a leafy tree while his flock was grazing later that day when he spotted a dark cloud in the sky some distance away. It moved a bit closer, and he could see they were vultures. One by one they dropped down into a grove of trees. Probably the dead sheep, he thought. Good riddance. He looked with complacent eyes on the sheep from his fold, grazing on the hills. Time for a little nap, he thought, as the gentle breeze caressed his face.

Over the years of working in Christian radio, the various types of churches in America became evident. For many years, the seeker, church-growth, Peter Drucker-influenced model changed the landscape. Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, years ago, developed associations that smaller churches could join to help them imitate the supposedly successful Willow Creek and Saddleback models. Seminars by satellite are still beamed all over the country, as bright-eyed young pastors dream about church greatness and big crowds. That’s one type of American church.

I also addressed the dying mainline churches, churches that long ago abandoned the faith once delivered to the saints and replaced it with a form of baptized anthropology. They exchanged the truth for a lie. The stench of embalming fluid fills these places.  That’s another kind of church.

But there is yet another type of church that I didn’t address much on the program. I should have. These churches have highly biblical doctrinal statements, maintain their commitment to orthodoxy and root out even the slightest growth of false teaching. They are known for not compromising. They outwardly have  a look of health. Their parking lots are full on Sunday with committed parishioners. But there is a problem, and that problem flows from shepherds on down.

If I had to characterize the issue with this kind of problem church, I could do so easily.  No love. The shepherds of these churches can be seen above in the small illustration. They are utterly committed to their churches in the sense that no church service, program, no church sponsored event will be neglected or done in a half-baked fashion. The sheep are herded in, and herded out, like clockwork. The floors are polished. These pastors and churches are not given to change, ridiculous fads or innovation. They are always on time.

But there is a problem. Shepherds in these churches can be so committed to the sustaining of a schedule, to programs, to upcoming this and upcoming that, they can miss the trail of blood in their foyers where “sheep”, deeply wounded and desperately asking for help, have come in and gone out, without it.

Complacent eyes take on a type of blindness. It’s not that they can’t see anything. It’s that they cannot see those who matter most.  These “shepherds” cannot see the hemorrhaging sheep in front of them, asking for help, as their responsibility before God who is the owner of the flock.

They see programs, conferences, schedules, administrative things, opportunities, but the desperation in the face of a hurting person who does not fit the plan? No. That disrupts order. That requires something beyond what they are willing to give.  They have places to go and things to do.

Contrast this with the picture of the caring shepherd that our LORD gives in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15.

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ ”

I have heard from so many through the years whose experiences are not primarily in circus churches with three rings and a trapeze in their ceilings, or mainline spiritual mortuaries. They are limping away, terribly wounded, from the third type of church—the ones that value doctrinal correctness and will not tolerate compromise, but they lack the one needful thing – the thing that is supposed to set them apart in the eyes of the world, the thing that heals and gives life to those who need extra care, because they have suffered terrible injuries. What’s missing is real love.

Shepherds in these places not only won’t leave the fold and  to locate a wandering “sheep”, they can’t be bothered with the bleeding “sheep”  right in front of them. The bleeding and wounded bring nothing but work. Their care is tedious. These sheep don’t nicely fit into a program, an activity, an orderly slot. So the shepherd looks away, progressively blind and deaf to the terrible need in front of him. Not only does he not care for them, he will not so much as call on an assistant to do so.

These shepherds may not even notice the dark cloud of vultures off in the distance, descending on the spiritual carcasses of  the sheep that slowly walked away.  They are busy with an itinerary their secretaries just ran off on the printer. Another opportunity awaits. There is no time for the wounded. No time.

My heart goes out to every single one who has come to what they thought was help, only to be ignored, neglected and passed by. Even a cursory reading of the Scriptures show that this model of “shepherd” is false in every respect.

Jesus Christ is the GOOD Shepherd. Again and again, we see the compassion and care of our Savior who heard the call of the blind, the beggar, the oppressed, the sick and the cripple. He touched the “untouchables” and healed them. The touch of love.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” cried the man by the side of the road. Unwashed, alone and in darkness, Jesus was his only hope. People told him to shut up, but he only cried louder, hoping against all hope that Jesus would hear.

What did the Good Shepherd do when he heard this man? Listen to the urging of his handlers to move on, as he had a scheduled appointment for teaching in Galilee? Did He head to an august council of great theologians and scholars to discuss fine points of the Law?

Here is what happened.

“When Jesus heard him, he stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him. As the man came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said, “All right, receive your sight! Your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus, praising God. And all who saw it praised God, too.” (Gospel of Luke, chapter 18)

The Lord heard the cry first, and then he responded. That cry was heard and acted upon. This is the example of a true shepherd.

I am sorry if any reading this have been injured by false shepherds. False shepherds are far more than those teaching erroneous doctrine or self-help, feel good messages. Any shepherd who does not have compassion that acts in the face of pain and injury is false.

All we can do, and we all need reminding of this in these brutal times of coldness and callous disregard in churches, is look to the Good Shepherd above by faith—the One who never fails, who hears our cries in mercy, and who tends to our wounds in love.

The Good Shepherd shows his love to us by sending other concerned “sheep” in our direction, people, those who encourage and who walk with us on the rough terrain on the winding path to the Celestial City.  We can urge each other on and help untangle things when some get caught in the brambles and minister to those who are sick.

May the Good Shepherd tend to your heart today if you are hurting. The LORD Jesus Christ is His name. Call on Him, the One who always hears.



18 thoughts on “Shepherds False and True

  1. 'grandma' Jeanne says: very true these statements here are, Ingrid. One can’t wonder why people…those who truly are believers…leave the church and stay home or wonder about the truth of what they have been taught.
    We all fail…but we need to look to do what the Lord tells us to do…It’s easy to point the finger at others…but let us be faithful and joyful to help others….those of us who still can, that is.

  2. Ingrid says:

    Love is more than theory. It’s a recurring theme in my life and on this blog. It’s more than a concept. Love without action isn’t love, I don’t care how you want to spin it. Each day we are usually given an opportunity to love. Sometimes we blow it, but we find forgiveness from the Lord, and hopefully from others when we ask. But it never gives up, and it never ceases to flow, however flawed we are in showing it, from hearts that really know God. Pride and coldness are the hallmarks of our age, including the hearts of many pastors. Let them do what they will, nothing stops us from showing that love to each other. If our hearts are not ruled by pride, that is.

  3. Connie Pinzl says:

    Wow! What an excellent piece! You hit the nail on the head for me with this article. I’ve been trying to figure out what was missing in my last church and you literally “nailed” it! Thanks for posting! You made me feel better!Connie

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

  4. 'grandma' Jeanne says:

    AMEN, Ingrid….love brings action as we can…even it it’s prayer….

  5. Ingrid says:

    Please accept my apologies. An earlier, unedited version of this post was published by mistake. I hopefully have rectified things. Red-faced.

  6. Denise says:

    Perfect illustration of a sad truth. Yes, we all fail. That is the point. The sheep are not allowed to fail. They are berated from the pulpit as ‘dead wood’, ‘dissenters’, or ‘probably not saved in the first place’. When pastors become administrators, they are building an earthly kingdom with a goal to grow the numbers. It almost seems as though some leaders are trying to drive certain people out in order to shape a congregation which matches their vision for success. Unity becomes conformity to a man-made standard. In that environment, there is no allowance for the Holy Spirit’s work in each individual. It’s hard to see Jesus Christ in the midst of all that. We know the Christian walk is not easy, and there is no perfect church. We also know that we’re sinners. We know it well. Compassion and hope should be served with the message of redemption.

  7. Ron Whited says:

    If only there was some way that this post could be read from every pulpit in America this Sunday…..

    Powerful,searing truth that resonates with this discarded soul. Thank you Ingrid for your faithfulness.

  8. 'grandma' Jeanne says:

    Oh..I’m sorry you have been discarded…God has never done that, though. He is the GOOD Shepherd and cares for HIS sheep and never leaves them nor forsakes then.

  9. healinginhim says:

    Thank you.
    Thank you for being true to the infallible Word of God.
    Thank you for taking time to pen such truth.
    Thank you for sharing and caring. ❤

  10. Song of Joy says:

    Ingrid, this is one of your most important posts. Thank you so much for your blog.

    Modern, conservative church leaders are much like the Pharisees, and many church members are like those of Jesus day who were afraid of the Pharisees’ authority.

    The Pharisees were always displeased and even infuriated whenever Jesus showed His love to individuals… when He healed those with infirmities, delivered them from suffering or death. What the Pharisees wanted was obedience and deference *from* people; they never were interested in having compassion *for* them. And the same attitude is rampant in churches today.

  11. Ingrid says:

    I completely agree. Conform completely and immediately to their system in their kingdoms to have any worth. Human compassion even is missing. It’s horrifying and instructive. Here’s the point: As long as you are a working cog in their machine, you have “worth” of a certain kind. You will not see this side of leadership. If, for some reason, you cannot serve as a cog, have been terribly injured in your faith and have a hard time trusting, if your needs go beyond their slot based system of “ministry” (you fit here or here), you are invisible. Ignored. Without value. There is a verse in the Scriptures that point out how a person’s gift makes room for him. I have seen this many times. If you have something to contribute to the system, you are wanted. If you do not, you will know the kind of loneliness I have talked about. This is wrong. This is not Christianity. This is a kingdom that serves the leadership, not Jesus, the One who showed love and compassion for the nobodies. I’m a nobody. Many are nobodies. We needed earthly shepherds who loved nobodies, but have struggled to find them all our lives. Many of us have given up.

  12. Ingrid says:

    As a side note, there is a pastor in India who pastors a leper church there and has for decades. He has shown more interest and concern for us through the years than anyone else. He calls via FB calling option to check on us. 17 years ago when a family member had a kidney transplant, he called for updates. “All your leper brothers and sisters are praying for you and your family, Sister Ingrid..” I can hear his voice. How many more we need like this here. He is minister to lepers. He feeds and clothes them with little help in the midst of persecution from radical Hindus. Maybe that’s why he gets it.

  13. unworthy1 says:

    May the Lord bless this pastor and his flock. Yes, he does get it doesn’t he? So unlike many of the pastors in America who give themselves titles and live comfortably off the flock.
    This pastor in India understands it is all about Christ, and not man. It is all about ‘forsaking all you have’ and living for Him and His glory. What will the fat shepherds in America do when it all ends? What will they do when the rubber meets the road and they must flee for their very lives? That day isn’t far off.


  14. T. I. Miller says:

    You wrote: They are berated from the pulpit as ‘dead wood’, ‘dissenters’, or ‘probably not saved in the first place’. When pastors become administrators……..
    When pastors become administrators that is to say hirelings, who love the seat of honor and the praise of men, they not only refuse to heal the wounded stray sheep they use their shepherds crook as a cudgel to berate and bully them. I have received more abuse from the pulpit than from misguided members of the flock.
    They are more concerned about THEIR team than Gods Kingdom. About conforming their flock into their image than into Christs image.
    Their main tool of control and subjugation is the man made idea of enforcing official certified formal membership to their specific local church. This is what the disciples were up to in Luke 9: 49. But Jesus overruled them in :50. secondly this violates the very heart of Romans 14. ” Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.”
    This is one of the most relevant articles concerning pastoral abuse I have ever come across.
    Thank you.

  15. Lynn says:

    This article is so spot on and describes my former church. All the right doctrine, orthodoxy, history, ministries, bible studies, blah, blah, blah. You would never know anything was wrong…..until you got on the bad side of leadership and then you see they are devoid of real love. I’m ROFLOL at the thought that any of these folks would have picked up a pen to write a letter or send a heartfelt email. I thought for sure that SOMEBODY out of all the pastors, elders, deacons, etc would have done so. That was a joke that my poor naive self feel for at the time. They use the pulpit and the Bible as a weapon. I had to leave at that point because they had totally desecrated the place for me. The term unity was constantly thrown out, but it meant nothing but conformity to their own rules like another poster stated.
    Ingrid mentioned that you only have value if you fit into their cog slots. I would go even further to state that even that has no bearing if you don’t go along with maintaining their image. For me it meant being willing to sweep all of the sin, problems, misgivings, etc under the rug. I have found that in other churches I have attended (in search of a new church) that the minute they get a whiff of anything you done in the past they are all over you. You are viewed as nothing more than someone they can put to work immediately. People attitudes towards you start to chill towards you after a while if you are no on board with that. I’m talking about being at a new church for months, not years and they want you to commit to all this stuff. In a lot of churches people are viewed as another mechanism to advance the vision of the pastors.
    Lastly, the congregation in these churches are afraid. They are afraid of bring obstracized so they are willing to gloss over all this stuff. The truth is the sheep is guilty of idolatry. We have made our pastors into Demi-gods under the guise of honoring them, and we think too highly of the churches we attend. This is especially true if the church holds to sound doctrine and does a lot of good works. I automatically get nervous when I hear folks talk about there church being the best this or that, constantly quoting everything that there pastor has said. Yes, it could very well be that wonderful and Praise God! But it also makes me wonder what the person would do if they found out otherwise

  16. Ingrid says:

    I mentioned the loving shepherd of the leper church in India we have known for many years. He is in Rajanagaram. This is the audio message I received this morning from him. He is on the other side of the world, feeding lepers today with rice and the Word, and he called to tell us THEY are praying for us. Thank you, pastor Gootla.

  17. Beverley says:

    Let us take our prayer time seriously as remember Pastor Gootla and others who minister in very difficult circumstances. We take so much for granted.
    Such a blessing to hear your voice, Ingrid as you returned heartfelt love back to this pastor.

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