How Raising Sheep Molded Me to be a Better Pastor

Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead THE Great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, that is, Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 13:20-21

For about 30 years I’ve enjoyed the pleasure–and sometimes the sorrow–of raising sheep–the 4 footed kind. And for over 50 years I’ve had the great privilege of pastoring God’s sheep–the 2 footed kind..

The Bible calls Christians sheep for very good reasons. The similarities are amazing. All we like sheep have gone astray. . . noted the prophet Isaiah.

What Pastors Can Learn from Shepherds

My Sheep Hear My Voice

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me John10:27.

One day a young minister from a big city came to visit our family on the farm. Together we gazed at our sheep in a far away field. “Call the sheep to come home,” I instructed him how to call. “Come sheep, Come sheep!” he called. The sheep cocked their heads but didn’t move. He called again, louder this time. Still no response.

Then I called, “Come sheep, Come sheep!

“Come Sheep! Come Sheep!”

As if moved by an invisible force, each and every sheep turned and walked to the barn in an orderly fashion. I knew they would come when called. My sheep knew my voice and they followed my direction. But a stranger they would not follow.

Pastors, no need to be discouraged if someone leaves our church or doesn’t follow our direction. He is not one of our sheep already. If he follows, he is one of our own.

Contrary to Popular Belief, Sheep are Very Smart

In fact, research indicates sheep remember the face of the one who feeds them for up to two years. Your sheep are not dumb. They figure things out. If I call my sheep to the feed trough but give them no grain, very soon they figure out. “Don’t come when he calls.”

A few years ago I took a survey at our men’s group. I wanted to find out how I was doing. One of the questions on the survey was “Does he always follow through on what he says?” I thought I would nail that one. But to my surprise one of the men gave me a low score on that one. He even gave an example in the comment section of a time I had failed to follow through. I was offended, but the evidence was clear. This sheep was molding me to become a better person and a better shepherd.

The Window for Training is Short

A few years ago we had to disperse our flock. To start again with new animals, my wife wanted to start afresh with very tame animals. We bought two identical milking goats from the same man at the same time. (Alright, these were goats, not sheep, but the illustration works the same). Each was 4 weeks old. We named one Button and the other Pearl. We bottle-fed both the same, expecting each would become tame. Pearl continues peaceful and approachable to this day, but Button is skittish and generally unapproachable. Why?

What happened in the first few days of Button’s life before we purchased her, we don’t know. But I’ve come to learn the opportunity for training is short. If we miss the window of opportunity, it will never return. Baby sheep need to be handled, talked with, fed, prepped, given special attention. They need our tender, loving care. If they don’t get it in the first weeks of life, they grow out of the stage when they will receive it.

How long is the window of opportunity for training new converts in church? I can’t say. It may be weeks or possibly years. But the opportunity for training for some people may be shorter than we think. If we miss it, it may be gone forever.

One young convert came to our church who hung on every word I spoke. He was very teachable. But after a few years, he didn’t seem so teachable. In fact, he began to cause trouble by refusing some of the key doctrines of our fellowship. I have wondered, “If I had spent more time with him in the key doctrines, could we have saved his ministry and avoided trouble in church?

Here’s something I didn’t learn at the barn; rather someone spoke it at a Billy Graham seminar. “Give people jobs before they’re ready.” This statement revolutionized my thinking. I was trained in the exact opposite. “Wait until someone is proven before giving them responsibility in the church.” My mentor insisted a person had the proven character and were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5) before giving them a task. Now, I delight to let a fledging try his wings with just about any thing as long as it’s on a temporary basis.

“Get people involved” is my current motto.

Pastors, the window of opportunity to train new people and new converts may be shorter than we think. Spend the time up front, to save trouble in the long run.

Foundations are Essential

This young lamb is happy to show us his Hollywood Smile.

As sheep get older, teeth began to fall out. In fact, a good shepherd can ascertain the age of a sheep by checking the teeth. When an ewe (female sheep ) loses most of her teeth, the condition is called “brokenmouth;.” she is not viable much longer and will eventually pass away.

According to Robert Ewing, teeth represent foundations. Someone recently told me they had a dream that all their teeth fell out. I immediately responded with encouragement that God wanted them to bolster their understanding of foundational doctrines. Hebrew 6:1-2 gives a list of foundational doctrines without which a Christian can not grow into maturity.

Foundations are as essential for Christians as teeth are for sheep. Neither can come to full maturity without them.

Sheep Get Downcast

What Pastors Can Learn from Shepherds

He restores my soul. Psalm 23. This is a picture of a “castled sheep.” It’s called “castle” because the legs are sticking up like towers on castle walls and there’s no way a sheep can turn over to get up. It will eventually die, sometimes in a few hours.

One of the saddest events on the farm is death. Every shepard has felt it.

In my experience, the common cause of a castled sheep is too much wool. When her fleece gets too heavy, she can get off balance. If she falls, she is unable to get back on her feet.

To prevent castling, the shepherd needs to relieve her of her burden. It’s called shearing. Pastor, pay close attention to your most productive people. It’s the heavy producers who can get trapped under a heavy load of responsibility.

Disease Spreads . . . Fast!

Oh, the agony. We once bought a prize ram, the strongest, most musclar ram we had ever possessed. We were so proud of him. We knew he would upgrade our entire flock.

What we didn’t know–he had foot rot. Foot rot is a fungular disease that lives in the soil and spreads from hoof to hoof.

Our prize ram spread foot rot to our entire flock. We ended up dispersing (selling) almost every sheep on the property. Selling the flock seemed the best solution once the disease had infected our ewes.

Gossip can do a lot of damage in a church. Best to deal with it before you have to close down the church.

When I first came to this church, the secretary wanted to do me a favor. She informed me about one of the elders. “He has this problem,” she confided.

I knew right then and there I could not trust this woman. If she would go behind the back of the elder, she would also go behind my back.

With the help of Dr Paul Kienal and others I began to teach the church the Matthew 18 Principle “If your brother sins, go to him in private. “Over the years, I have taught repeatedly the practical steps to prevent gossip from spreading in church.

To this day, the Church of the Living Water is almost entirely “gossip-free.” Praise God!

Sheep are Naturally “Scardy-cats”

When a neighbor’s dog appears, our sheep turn and run. If I drop a bucket, they scram. Even when I carry an unusual object through the pen, they scramble away.

Sheep are largely defenseless, so we have to accept the fact that God gave them the ability to turn and run as their primary defense mechanism.

Formerly, I used to judge people if they could not change schedule quickly. I’ve come to accept that sheep are averse to change. Flexibility may be a virtue for cats, but not for sheep. Sheep are “sheep-eesh!”

Some really good Christians are paralyzed by the thought of evangelism. Others are petrified by the idea that they would ever speak in tongues. Some can’t bear the thought of praying out load in front of others.

Some people love to get in front and talk. Others would rather die than have to give a testimony.

As pastors we need to help people overcome fears, realizing we have fears too.


There is one exception to this sheepishness in our sheep. When it comes to feeding, they will push and shove to get to the feed trough. Sheep love to eat.

When it comes to the pasture, sheep love to eat deeply. Cows eat high, four to six inches off the ground. Sheep eat deeply, even killing the grass if they need to get the last centimeter of forage.

Pastors, let’s provide the meal when we find a hungry sheep.

Sheep Cannot Protect Themselves; We Have to Do It for Them

Most sheep breeds have no horns. None have claws. They have no offenseive weapons. God did not make sheep to defend themselves. He made Shepherds to defend the flock.

One year we lost 25 lambs and sheep on our farm. Coyotes and two-legged rustlers were the predators.

We had to take immediate action. We installed two more yard lights to keep both coyotes and rustlers away. We trained the sheep to return to the barn at night.

But face it, one shepherd can only do so much.

Shepherds do not ordinarily stay with the flock 24 hours a day, except perhaps at lambing season. (In Bible times and in some localities that may be possible, but not always.) Some farms use trained dogs to guard their sheep. We chose a llama to stay with and guard the sheep.

Some animals have a natural instinct to guard sheep. One day we found our llama tenderly pawing a downed lamb trying to raise up the little creature.

Applying this to humans, I’ve found some people have a knack or gift of discernment they use to defend the flock. I’m thinking of two women in our church. One was Grandma Norma, who I sometimes called “Eagle Eyes.” If something was wrong or if someone was causing trouble, “Old Eagle-Eye” was sure to let me know. She didn’t overdo it or cause trouble, but I valued her discernment and often acted on the basis of her word. She was called by God to help defend the flock.

Pastor, who do you have in your congregation to help you guard the people?

Sheep Have to Chew Their Food Twice

Sheep have to chew their food twice. When they eat a bite of grass it goes into their first stomach called the rumen. From the rumen the partially digested food travels to the second stomach called the reticulum. Then, amazingly, the food has to go back to the sheep’s mouth for digestion. The sheep then uses its molars to chew the food again. This is called chewing the cud.

If a sheep doesn’t chew its cud, it cannot digest the food; it gets no benefit no matter how good the grass is. Sheep generally chew their cud later, when thy are at rest and lying down.

Let’s apply this to humans. In my younger days, I expected people to hear the Word of God and act. No more. Now I expect people to hear the word and I don’t worry if they seemingly forget about it. Sometime later, the Holy Spirit will remind them of the planted word. They need time and rest before they can chew on it. We call it meditation. Following meditation, lives are changed. That’s how I was healed of cancer. I meditated, and meditated, and meditated on the healing Scriptures. Fully half of my book Answer for Cancer: 9 Keys deals with meditation on the Word of God.

Chewing the cud releases the nutrition. Meditation brings the power of change.

Never Turn Your Back on an Intact Male

Never Turn Your Back . . .

When rams butt, they can be terribly dangerous. Head-butters have crippled, maybe even killed the unwary.

Some Christians don’t act like Christians. Listen to some Bible warnings:

For there are many rebellious people, empty talkers and deceivers . . . who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach . . . . For this reason reprimand them severely so that they may be sound in the faith . . . Titus 1:10-13.

Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them, “Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and with shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns until you have scattered them abroad, therefore, I will deliver My flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between one sheep and another. Ezekiel 34:20-22

But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds Revelation 2;30-22.

Discipline remains one of the most difficult and riskiest jobs of a shepherd. But it’s got to be done.

Drive out the scoffer, and contention will go out,
Even strife and dishonor will cease
Proverbs 22:10.

Shepherds Must Prepare in Advance for Lambing Season

When lambs arrive, they usually come in multiples: twins, triplets, or maybe quads. When lambs start arriving, it’s too late to get supplies. A good shepherd prepares in advance: Extra colostrom, clean the pens, buy the tags, maybe get extra help.

We are believing God for revival. Lambing season will soon come. Is your nursery ready? Is your staff prepared? How about your Sunday School?

Shepherds Learn and Grow

One year our daughter Sarah owned two super quality ewes. Each was full-bodied with stout, short legs and heavy musculature. Each was the type we wanted for improvement in our flock. Each ewe had a history of twins. Very valuable ewes.

As lambing time approached Sarah and I watched her ewes grow heavy with lambs. “They will either have twins or triplets,” I surmised with delight.

But suddenly tragedy struck. One day one of the ewes died. To try to save the baby lambs we attempted a Caesarian section–a surgery that can sometimes save a lamb even if the mother dies provided it is done soon enough. But we discovered the deceased mother too late–we could not save the babies. There were three perfectly formed, large lambs, all dead.

Then tragedy struck again. Soon the other of Sarah’s heavily pregnant ewes also died. We were devastated. In another disparate attempt to save the baby lambs, we tried another c-section. That can work if we find the ewe soon enough after she dies. But this was also futile. The second ewe also was carrying triplets–all large and healthy–if only they had survived. I can still see the babies in my mind’s eye. They looked so sleek and pudgy, like little piggies.

We had just lost 8 prize sheep–two mothers and 6 baby lambs. This was perhaps the saddest memory of all my shepherding days.

It was my fault. I had failed to increase the nutrition of these heavy producers. I was giving them sufficient rations for a mother with twins, but not enough for a mother with triplets.

As I look back, I have to take heart. I am learning. We are better shepherds now than when we started.

As pastors, we’ve learned to listen, we’ve learned how to make hospital visits, how better to preach and lead. How better to pray and hear from God. How to be a better husbands and father. Sure, we will continue to learn and make more mistakes.

Yet pastors, take heart. We are called by God. The only ones who never make a mistake are the ones who never try.

God bless you.

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