Observations from a Pastor Who Also Raises Sheep

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Written by Jeremy Farley, Pastor of Summit Baptist Church in Sugar Grove, Virginia.

I have been involved in some form of ministry in one way or another for the better part of fifteen years, but I’m just now reaching my second year of pastoring.

When I’m not preparing for one of the five sermons I now find myself delivering on a weekly basis or out visiting potential new church members or the sick and elderly, I can most likely be found on the back of some unnamed Virginia hillside raising sheep.  Not the flock of God, but a flock of Katahdins that have proved to be an enjoyable escape from the pressures of being an adult with responsibility.

I’m hardly a seasoned pastor and what little I do know about ministry is far more than what I know about farming — to put it simply, I’m a jack of both trades but master of neither.

Still, I can’t help but find great appreciation in the reality that on the average Sunday in the winter, prior to clothing myself in a suit and dress shoes, I am wearing a worn out pair of Carhartt’s and boots covered in manure — feeding my flock before leaving to feed His flock.

The word “pastor” can be interpreted to literally mean “shepherd” and though I hardly consider myself a skilled or qualified shepherd in either regard, there are a handful of observations I’ve made over the past few years that I’d like to share.

I’m a Shepherd Because I Love it, Not for What I Get Out of It…
When I first got into “farming” I had big dreams of turning my hobby and lifelong passion into a profitable money making venture.  Years later, I can say without a doubt that money can be made from farming, of this there is no question… I just don’t know very many folks who have figured out how exactly this is done!  Most of the farmers I know joke that they work a job on the side so they can afford to farm fulltime.

There are far more profitable uses I could take with my land rather than use it to raise sheep, but I choose to do this for no other reason than because there’s some unexplainable desire I have to simply raise sheep.  I don’t understand why I do it and in the cold of winter when I’m breaking ice with a sledge hammer I’ve often thought about stopping, but I can’t.  I like doing it too much.

Turning our attention to pastoring people and there is absolutely no difference.  Though our little country church takes far better care of me than I deserve, the reality is that pastoring Biblically is not the type of profession one enters in order to get wealthy.  And here’s a little secret — I’d continue being the pastor of our church if they quit paying me.  Why?  Because it’s something I can’t help but do.  It’s my greatest desire in life.

And that right there is the very first qualification for a Scriptural pastor — he must desire to do this work.

“…if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.” — I Timothy 3.1

The flock of saints God has blessed me to watch will never know how much I think about them throughout the course of the average day, how much I worry about the family situations they have shared with me in confidence, and how my heart breaks for them when they’re hurting.  In its simplest form, pastoring people is making a conscious decision to be available to raw human emotion.  And if it’s not something someone has a passion and God-given desire to do, they will not last when the bitter winds of this world blow against them.

If you’re in the ministry to be seen, you probably won’t be seen in the ministry very long.

I know each of my sheep individually
Outside of a handful of bottle lambs my children have raised, we do not name our sheep.  It’s just something we’ve never done, but this does not mean for a moment that I do not know my sheep.

Our sheep have ear tags and I know their behavior better than they know themselves. Sheep #23 will come running to the gate the moment she realizes I’m outside and will not leave my side the entire time I am in the field.  This is because she was a sickly lamb and almost died and when she was about a week old. Much to the chagrin of my wife, I kept her in our master bathroom’s bathtub for a few nights just so she’d stay warm and get fed regularly.  It seems that the time she spent with the shepherd when she was most needy is something she’s never gotten past.

Sheep #12 doesn’t like me very much and is a little skiddish.  This is because one time I dropped a metal fencepost on his back and not long after he began warming up to me, I accidentally fell over him when I wasn’t paying attention.  I’ve hurt him several times and he’s never forgotten about this.  As a pastor, Sheep #12 is a constant reminder of why I must be very careful in dealing with God’s sheep.  As the Book of Proverbs says, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city…”

Sheep #28 isn’t a pure bred Katahdin and I picked her up “horse trading”.  From the moment I brought her into the field and introduced her to the flock, they have rejected her.  Sure, she eats from the same trough as them, but I notice that on rainy days when the rest of the flock is huddled together in safety, she’s an outcast — unwelcomed by the fold.  My heart actually breaks for her, because she does not live a very pleasant life, even for a sheep.  She is a constant reminder of the reality that there will be some people in church that just don’t fit in — and though their fellow church members may not treat them kindly or fairly, the Great Shepherd is watching and His heart breaks.

As a farmer, I know my sheep.  And a pastor, I desire to know the sheep He’s placed me as under shepherd better each day — but I must realize that truly knowing people can only come after considerable years and trials.

I don’t like when people call my sheep goats…
Here’s a confession I’ve never had the heart to share with my friends and relatives who come visit: It drives me absolutely crazy when you call my sheep goats!

They are Katahdin Hair Sheep, not goats.  As funny as it may sound, I actually secretly take great offence when you call them goats, as I’m not a goat farmer, I’m a sheep farmer.

Just about everyone who has ever made this mistake did so out of ignorance and meant no harm — after all, they weren’t very familiar with sheep and so they shouldn’t have been expected to know what they were.

But while someone who has never been around sheep may be quick to confuse the sheep with goats, I have found that individuals who have spent anytime around the real thing have no troubles in distinguishing the two… Somebody say “Ah-men” right there!

There is a great blending that is taking place in our post-modern society in which the church and what it means to be a Christian is being quickly watered down and neutered to the point that there is now very little distinguishing marks between sheep and goats.

May we as Christians ever be mindful of the fact that there is a Great Shepherd who sees all things and He has no trouble in distinguishing the two and one day, He will do just that.

“And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats” — Matthew 25.32

You can only skin a sheep one time, but you can shear it multiple times…
Here’s one more pastoral confession!  Believe it or not, but that elevated platform I speak from each Sunday actually affords me the opportunity to see the cell phone you think you’re so coyly hiding from me as you do whatever it is you’re doing!  And yes, my flesh desires nothing more than to call you out on it publicly in front of everyone.  But here’s the problem — doing this, “skinning you” so to speak, would be something I could only do once because I’d probably never see you again.

In fact, as a pastor, there are several big issues I’d love to tackle, but doing so would be perceived as “skinning people’s hide” and once I did this, my effectiveness in ministering to that person would forever be lost.

So what do I do?  I do what a shepherd is supposed to do — I attempt to shear God’s people.

Fortunately for me, the Katahdin hair sheep I raise don’t need to be sheared, because I’ve tried shearing before and it isn’t an easy job, but I found that with a little practice I got better.

I’m new to shearing sheep, but with the help of the Great Shepherd and a little patience on the sheep’s part, I believe we’ll get by just fine.

So what’s the final observation of a shepherd who is also a shepherd?  I suppose it is this — I love sheep and want to do everything I can to make the sheep better.

If you don’t have a true, God called, Biblical shepherd, you’re truly missing out on one of the greatest gifts known to man.

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