PERSPECTIVE

THE SHEPHERD AND THE STEWARD...

A MATTER OF OWNERSHIP

Have you ever noticed how emphatically the Good Shepherd claims ownership of the sheep in the narrative of John 10? He “calls his own” (v.3); he brings out his own” (v.4);

“I know my sheep…am known by my own” (v.14); “I lay down my life for my sheep”

(v.15); and “other sheep I have” (v.16). After reading this narrative there

remains absolutely no question about who owns the sheep! This is a collection

of expressions from the Good Shepherd that communicates ownership way beyond

the commercial level—but passionate personal ownership of something so valuable

that he would go to the extreme of giving his life for them. This Shepherd

doesn’t simply stand at the door; he is the door (v.7) which means that anyone

or anything that seeks to harm his own will have to go through him first. And

that is not going to happen! This is ownership strengthened by deep and

committed love.



The thief has to take the sheep by force and is thus limited to one or at the most two which is about all one person could carry away. The steward has the trust of the entire flock"

Stan

THE RISK OF STEWARDSHIP

This Good Shepherd

engages stewards—under-shepherds—to assist in feeding, growing, and nurturing

the sheep. This is risky; risky because the only way the steward can

effectively serve is for the sheep to learn to associate the steward’s voice

with that of the Shepherd. They must assume that the qualities of the steward

mirror the qualities of the Shepherd and will follow the steward even as they

trustingly follow the Shepherd. The risk is in the assumption: same character,

same commitment, and the same love that stands firm even to the point of death.

This risk is far greater than the risk posed by the thief who tries to covertly

gain entrance to the fold (vss.1, 8) because the thief has to take the sheep by

force and is thus limited to one or at the most two which is about all one

person could carry away. The steward has the trust of the entire flock.

THE UNFAITHFUL STEWARD

The narrative

describes this risk by telling of the unfaithful steward (hireling) (vss. 12,

13) who claims no ownership—only remuneration. The hireling views the sheep as

objects at the center of a transactional relationship between himself and the

Shepherd. The hireling functions not on the basis of commitment but of

compliance that is limited in terms of time, energy, and risk to self. As such

the sheep are safe and nurtured only to the extent of the limits he sets on the

working relationship with the Shepherd. While watching the sheep which have

trustingly followed his voice out to feed, he notices that several wolves have

slid their heads cautiously out of the obscurity of the forest to weigh the

possibilities and the risk of having mutton for lunch. The hireling quickly

weighs his risk (not the sheep’s) and comes to the conclusion that this

scenario exceeds his allowable risk and runs—abandons the flock while

muttering, “I don’t get paid enough for this!” The sheep are scattered while

some are caught and devoured. This is the risk the Good Shepherd assumes when

entrusting the sheep to stewards.



We might conclude that the faithful steward—committed, loving, faithful—is everything that the hireling isn’t, but unfortunately that only takes us so far."

THE FAITHFUL STEWARD

John doesn’t record

any direct counsel in this tale of the Good Shepherd regarding the qualities of

a faithful steward. He allows the wisdom of the greatest storyteller to

activate our minds and creativity in building a mental model of the faithful

steward. We might conclude that the faithful steward-committed, loving, faithful—is

everything that the hireling isn’t, but unfortunately that only takes us so

far. The hireling doesn’t own the sheep and neither does the faithful steward.

This begs the question whether the faithful steward simply “acts” like an owner

and if so, where does the motivation to do so come from? Can the faithful

steward sustain the act long enough to be declared bondable because he has

demonstrated low-risk behavior as a steward? Will such a steward be able to

stand the test when he notices the black, wet muzzles of the wolf pack emerging

from the cover of darkness to sniff the scent of the flock? Will his sense of

self in the context of a lack of ownership allow him to lay his life on the

line for the sheep?



David, the

shepherd, demonstrated the passionate committed behavior expected of a faithful

under-shepherd in his encounter with the “lion and bear” (1 Sam 17:34-36). The encouragement this

story brings is that David does not identify himself as the owner. He engages

both predators at great risk to his life in order to save a sheep that was not

his own. The important key that we

discover in this tale of courage is that David identifies the sheep as “his

father’s sheep” (v. 34) and thus we discover the motivating factor for his

willingness to risk himself for the sheep—he acted like an owner because of his

relational identity to his father. The sheep had value because of their value

to the father and by extension they became valuable to him.



I experienced this

reality as a young man while living and working on our family farm in rural

Missouri, USA. While working alone one afternoon in the summer of my 16th year,

I heard the frantic barking of dogs coming from the pasture where my father

kept his sheep. I immediately acted on my fear that feral dogs were attacking

the sheep. I took my rifle in hand and ran toward the sheep only to discover my

worst fears; sheep were lying dead and mutilated, some wounded and exhausted.

My efforts drove the pack of dogs away but not before they inflicted

significant loss among the sheep. At one point a wounded dog attacked me rather

than escaping, and that very personal encounter has remained a clear memory

these many years later. Another memory that has stayed with me is the flash of

thought and regret that ran through my mind when I looked at each of those dead

or dying sheep. My father worked so hard to care for our family and my mind

calculated every sheep lost by dollar value, which translated to hours of hard

work for him. “The commitment to the sheep is found in the relationship to the

Father.”



THE GOOD SHEPHERD AS STEWARD

“The commitment to the sheep is found in the relationship to the Father.”

I experienced this

reality as a young man while living and working on our family farm in rural

Missouri, USA. While working alone one afternoon in the summer of my 16th year,

I heard the frantic barking of dogs coming from the pasture where my father

kept his sheep. I immediately acted on my fear that feral dogs were attacking

the sheep. I took my rifle in hand and ran toward the sheep only to discover my

worst fears; sheep were lying dead and mutilated, some wounded and exhausted.

My efforts drove the pack of dogs away but not before they inflicted

significant loss among the sheep. At one point a wounded dog attacked me rather

than escaping, and that very personal encounter has remained a clear memory

these many years later. Another memory that has stayed with me is the flash of

thought and regret that ran through my mind when I looked at each of those dead

or dying sheep. My father worked so hard to care for our family and my mind

calculated every sheep lost by dollar value, which translated to hours of hard

work for him. “The commitment to the sheep is found in the relationship to the

Father.”

Stan Patterson

Chair of the Department of Christian Ministry,  Associate Professor of Christian Ministry &  Andrews University, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary

Dr. Patterson holds a Ph.D. in

Leadership and Administration from Andrews University, after 17 years in

pastoral ministry and for 14 years in church administrative leadership in the

ministerial and evangelism departments.

He and his wife Glenda have four children and six grandchildren.

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