It was the Sabbath morning rush—when you have left home with just enough time, barring the unexpected to make it to church on time. Well, the unexpected happened while driving up a mountain road to the Rocky Mountain Cowboy camp meeting. My quick dispatch of the curvy asphalt was suddenly stopped by a herd of sheep.
Sure that I would be late for Sabbath school, from time to time I tapped my horn, which most of the time the sheep ignored. However, on occasion they would slowly part so I could move a little further up the winding path. To my hurried surprise as I rounded each curve thereafter I was met by more sheep. I would guess that there were close to a thousand sheep ambling up this mountain road with shepherds and sheep dogs dispersed amongst them.
Though late for Sabbath school, I enjoyed an object lesson that stretched out for miles before me as I watched shepherds and sheep dogs work in unison to keep the sheep moving. If sheep wandered from the path, with whistles and gestures the shepherds would guide the sheep dogs to where the sheep were straying and instruct them how to bring them back to the fold. The shepherds’ jobs were two-fold—keeping their helpers focused on the immediate task at hand (straying sheep) while keeping their ultimate goal in mind: reaching the broad pasture area, which later I learned was at the top of the mountain.
As is implied in the name, the role of the pastor (closely related in meaning to pasture) is very similar to that of the shepherd. Tasked by the Chief Shepherd, they keep our focus on the sheep and guide the church’s work to restore them to His fold. The embodiment of servant-leadership, as servants they are always looking out for others. As leaders they are visionaries who look up the road making sure everyone is focused on the goal.
It is because the under-shepherd is a forward thinker that we go to pastors in time of need. When tired and tempted by patches of grass in alcoves or distracted by side roads or shade trees that beckon us to stay, pastors keep us moving up the road that is walked by faith toward God. With every sermon they prepare, outreach strategy they prayerfully share, meeting they chair, counseling session and home or hospital visit they conduct, couple they wed or family they comfort in time of loss, their goal remains the same; to keep us who are on the ever increasing incline of the Christian journey focused on the hope that is in Jesus, and the green pastures that are to be ours if we keep our eyes focused on Him.
If you serve as pastor or lay-leader and find that people have great regard for you as servant, but have little regard for what you provide as leader, always keep the goal in mind–the mountain top where we will enjoy unending vistas with Jesus! Be the quintessential servant-leader. As servant be available for God’s use and as leader avoid ab-use. No better example of this balancing act can be found than that of the apostle Paul, underscored in the book of Acts as more than willing to give his life for the gospel—yet he over and over again avoided an untimely demise.
If you have a tendency to undervalue the blessing of having God’s servant-leader walk life’s uphill journey with you, would you pray that God’s Holy Spirit would enhance your appreciation? As you pray, please bear in mind church leadership can be lonely and discouraging. Finally, please do all you can to help your herd stay focused on the goal, ever upward, ever onward to the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus.
Maurice R. Valentine II is vice president for administration and ministerial director of the Mid-America Union.