Sent Shepherds

Is it possible that shepherds with apostolic eyes can help create bridges from predictable and safe sheep pens into missional and open fields?

In missional movements growing out of evangelical subcultures it is really important for apostles and prophets to regain their voices in the body which have been lost, quieted or silenced(!) in the overemphasis on shepherds and teachers. In the re-missioning church that I serve and so many of the evangelical congregations that I interact with there is a huge need for people who can help us to adventure out into the missional frontier and remind us of the importance of recalibrating around the uncomfortable truths of living in healthy relationships with God and others.

However, what are pastors and leaders to do until the apostles and prophets show up, are invited in, or are cultivated among the church? Are there ways that we can learn from the churches we currently are and the opportunities that exist right in front of us?

A Shepherd Opportunity

There have been two regular and on-going experiences in my established church context which have reminded me that even the most shepherd-centric situations can be an opportunity to develop apostolic eyes. Over the course of 43 funerals in 41 months and regularly visiting people in their homes as a guest it has given me opportunities to sharpen practices and skills that help me understand how to shepherd people from the safe sheep pen out into the open fields that are much less predictable and can often be disorienting.

Shepherding well should sharpen apostolic sensibilities.

To truly love people where they are and invite them into pastures of green grass, rest, water for their soul, and presence in the midst of grief and loss…these same abilities are necessary to be the church on the green edges of the Kingdom breaking in to the here and now.

Grief is no stranger to your neighbor who has no faith community. 75% of the funerals I have done were with folks who called my church their family. 25% of the funerals were with people who had no church to call family and no shepherd who knew their name.

Shepherding well should sharpen apostolic sensibilities - Josh Hayden Click To Tweet

Shepherding well in the aftermath of loss develops the capacity to see and acknowledge pain without trying to fix it. Alan Hirsch points out in 5Q that shepherds: promote and facilitate healing, encourage shalom and wholeness, develop social bonding and cultivate the family of God (even those who may not be of your sheep pen—yet!).[1]

A Shepherd Guest

Another gift from shepherding is learning how to be a guest in someone else’s home and community of friends. Discovering customs and traditions deeply embedded in families for decades accompanied by being on the receiving end of a gift instead of the giver has helped me to pay attention to what other people love and what makes their relationships have meaning and purpose.

Receiving hospitality has helped me to be more conscientious of power, material possessions, and the ways that inequality can exist in relationships without careful attention and action. Being the guest in people’s homes has taught me so much about how to pay attention and learn to love what others love.

Being the guest in people’s homes has taught me so much about how to pay attention and learn to love what others love - Josh Hayden Click To Tweet

Whether watching VCR tapes of cultural moments important to someone, eating their favorite foods, hearing stories of how they rest and play, seeing photos of children and grandchildren, or even the bearing witness to the silence on the other side of loss—all of those experiences are a gift of hospitality that teach you how to pay attention and put yourself in the shoes of other people.

In John’s gospel, Jesus says,

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. (John 10:14-16, NIV)

A Shepherd Presence

Shepherds are first sent to the flock in the pen by sharing presence, a hand to hold, a person to talk through checklists for a funeral, collect stories around a table, and sit in silence with someone as tears roll down cheeks. And when we shepherd well we learn people’s names. When we don’t skip over seasons of grief and loss with the other sheep in our church we learn how to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd and learn to hear the names of the sheep outside of the pen.

Shepherding well depends on the ability to listen, pay attention and see the world through the eyes of broken-hearted spouses, disappointed children, shocked cousins, and destabilized friends. Shepherding well depends on the ability to receive the hospitality of others as a gift and to know that the Good Shepherd has sheep outside of your pen who are straining to hear the voice calling their name.

Shepherding well depends on the ability to receive the hospitality of others as a gift - Josh Hayden Click To Tweet

The skills of being present in grief and loss and being the guest in a relationship are essential to being sent on mission with God.  Shepherds with apostolic eyes can help create bridges from predictable and safe sheep pens into missional and open fields where people are grieving and eager to share their hospitality.

Sent shepherds have cultivated the abilities to enter someone else’s world, learn to love what they love, and listen with others for the voice of the Good Shepherd.  Shepherds who embrace the “sentness” of God have actually developed ways of being in relationship that translate inside and outside of the church. The church as movement doesn’t need less shepherds but we do need shepherds who embrace their sentness. The church as movement needs sent shepherds who develop apostolic eyes through missional presence.

[1] Alan Hirsch, 5Q: Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ, pg. 109-110. Printed in Columbia by 100 Movements in 2017.

About the Author

Josh Hayden

Josh Hayden is the Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church in Ashland, VA. Josh studied leadership and organizational change while writing Creative Destruction: Towards a Theology of Institutions to receive his Doctor of Ministry at Duke Divinity School. He’s also the author of Sacred Hope, a book designed to foster conversation about the role of hope in our lives. Josh currently serves on the V3 Board of Directors.

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