Even though I poke fun at the idea of "sheep" being an analogy for church people, I still find lots of value in it. Here's just a sample of 10 pointers I've taken from the 23rd Psalm for me as a pastor (which is originally taken from the word "shepherd"):
- He makes me lie down in green pastures: Rest is key. When people officially congregate, their is a natural propensity to get busy doing something. I am constantly pruning back busy-ness, activity and programs. I make people stop. I frustrate work-ethics. I am anti-ministry. In rest is our strength. I believe it because I've seen its fruitfulness.
- He leads me beside still waters: I endeavor to not create stirs or let them be created. There is peace to be had. There are still waters. There is water we can freely drink from that will not pull us in and drown us. There are people who always want to catastrophize life, portraying it as treacherous and full of danger. Everything has to be a conspiracy. Church has to be full of drama. This is false! There are still waters, and they are right beside us if we would notice.
- He restores my soul: Our original state was wholeness, from which we fell into brokenness. So I automatically assume that people are broken, weary, heavy-laden, and in need of restoration. My job is not to tear people down or condemn them. People are trapped in their illusions and delusions and suffer unfathomable wounds and pains for which there is healing. Anyone and everyone can be and needs to be restored. Restore the people!
- He leads me in right paths: Truth is straight and narrow. Few find it. There is nothing complicated about it. It is very simple. It is straight. We habitually confuse things. I personally MUST know this path in order to walk with others on it. A child knows this. The mounds of theology and polity are nothing but distractions that make the path complicated, elitist, and fatal to many.
- Walk through the dark valley without fear of evil: Just as God incarnated and entered into our horrible and dark world, so I must enter into the suffering of others. I must accompany them in their darkest valleys. In the circles I find myself in, there is much talk about Satan and devils and spirits. But our fear of them provides them the only power they need, the only power they have. I do not fear.
- Your rod and staff comfort me: Comfort people! They need comforting. Again, comfort means to strengthen together with. Enter into their suffering and liberate them from their pain. Haven't people been Cajoled enough? Corrected enough? Condemned enough? Comfort, comfort ye my people! Let's stop using the tools of our trade to beat people over their already bruised heads!
- Prepare a table in the midst of enemies: Even though people suffer an onslaught of opposition and suffering, it is possible for them to experience sustenance in the midst of it. It is possible to be victorious in the midst of insurmountable odds and apparent failure. Help them to know this!
- Anoint heads with oil: In other words, provide very practical ways to bring restoration to people. Pray for them. Soothe them. Love them. Touch them. Cool their heads with solid, simple truth. People can be healed.
- Overflow cups: When Jesus saw the multitudes, and that they were lost and beleaguered, like sheep without a shepherd, what did he do? He taught them. Simply. Liberate them! Pour yourself out for them, for this is what love does. Do not hold yourself back, but openly, authentically, without reserve, give yourself.
- Goodness and mercy will follow: Assure people that no matter how great the adversity in life, no matter how great the suffering, no matter how great the apparent failure, that all things work together for good, and that goodness and mercy will be left in their wake. Give people hope that even in the darkest valley, they shine like stars, that in the driest desert, they overflow like springs of fresh water. No matter how meagre the world's estimate of a person, this cannot possibly measure the effect this person has in the world.
Well, I hope this helps. I thought I'd just share this from my own little notes. Take them or leave them. The fine art photograph is the creation of my friend Mark Hemmings.