Are We Really Sheep?

This article is about the imagery, of livestock, as a metaphor for the people in the pews.

Hey, Kinnon. It’s biblical.

Indeed, madam. You are correct! Sheep used as a metaphor for God’s people is, in fact, to be found in the Scriptures.

Sheep were highly valued. Then.

Think of Jesus’ story of the one lost sheep, and the shepherd who left the 99 to search for that one.

How quaint.

I would suggest that we view sheep with much less value today — if we view them at all.

And what of the shepherds? Well, then they were were possibly the lowest of the gainfully employed. (Think of Jesse not even considering having his youngest son, David, the shepherd, come to be consecrated by Samuel.) Shepherds lived with their sheep. They smelled like their sheep. They knew each one by name. A single shepherd tended no more than 100 sheep in New Testament times.

Today, returning to the church livestock metaphor, a shepherd (or pastor, in its latinate form) with only 100 sheep would be considered a failure. And how could any “successful” shepherd be expected to know all of “his/her” sheep.

Might I suggest the metaphor breaks down in its present usage within the church. And that this misused/misunderstood metaphor is responsible for much damaging separation between those who call themselves shepherds and “their” sheep — as if the shepherds are their owners. (Sheep cannot be stolen — except from their owners.)

Might I further suggest that the use of the phrase “sheep-stealing” is particularly bizarre amongst those who call us to be missional-minded.

The reality is that we are all sheep. Or none of us are. (Shall we save the goats for another conversation?)  

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Bill Kinnon
A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982, with many roles in the church in the following 3 decades, including worship leader, elder, mega church communications director and ordained pastor. He's written hundreds of posts at his blog, on the missional conversation and on the critical importance of discipleship. Today, Bill is the Managing director of Medri Kinnon Productions — a company he began with his wife, Imbi Medri, in 1985.

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