I am going to make a seemingly simplistic statement that, to the untrained mind, will be misinterpreted. Ministry is about loving people. Why is this often repeated statement misinterpreted? Because our current culture, Christian and non-Christian, has a very poor working definition of love. Without delving into a massively detailed, scholarly study of “love” (which is beyond my pay grade, and capability), I want to point out that, when ministering to a body of people, love involves treating people according to that which is most appropriate, all things considered. In an overly simplistic statement, I was once criticized because “a shepherd leads his sheep from the front but drives his sheep to slaughter.” I actually have no problem with this concept but call it simplistic because it assumes that everyone in any given church is one of His “sheep.” Should we not deal with “goats” differently than sheep, or worse, what if it is a ravenous wolf in sheep’s clothing? Love for the sheep should inspire a shepherd to deal with a ravenous wolf in a rather shocking manner. Of course, not all people who are not “sheep” are ravenous wolves. However, my point is, ministry and love require a level of discernment that is uncharacteristic of our age because we think that love involves treating everyone nice.
Don’t get me wrong, there are likely times I drove a few sheep, appropriately or inappropriately – I am by no means claiming a perfect record. However, if you grant me a bit of license and liberty, I will toss out a few hypothetical’s.
- If sheep suffer from identity crisis and assume a) they are shepherds or b) their job is to lead the shepherd, we have a problem.
- What would you think if you were told that you were to shepherd a herd of sheep and when you went into the field to do so, there stood a herd of shepherds?
- How would a merchant react if you were to attempt to pass off goats as sheep?
- Is there a possibility that it is in the best interest of the flock at large, to remove a sheep or two from time to time?
- What happens if you treat a viper as a sheep, or, to pursue this in a different direction, a bad tree as a good tree, bad soil as good soil, tares as wheat, etc.?
When attempting to engage in effective ministry, one must discern what type or category of person or people is at hand. Though the sheep-comparison is common in the ministry of Jesus, other illustrations surface in Scripture that prove helpful. A favorite of mine follows.
“Give ear and hear my voice, listen and hear my words. Does the farmer plow continually to plant seed? Does he continually turn and harrow the ground? Does he not level its surface and sow dill and scatter cummin and plant wheat in rows, barley in its place and rye within its area? For his God instructs and teaches him properly. For dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge, nor is the cartwheel driven over cummin; but dill is beaten out with a rod, and cummin with a club. Grain for bread is crushed, Indeed, he does not continue to thresh it forever. Because the wheel of his cart and his horses eventually damage it, he does not thresh it longer. This also comes from the LORD of hosts, Who has made His counsel wonderful and His wisdom great.” (Is.28:23-29)
Notice the variables that, if ignored, make for bad farming, but when understood and observed, make for fruitful farming. The same is true in ministry. If you are sowing when you should be breaking up fallow ground (or vice versa), you will have negative results. If you treat dill like cummin or barley like rye, your farming will be unfruitful.
Now for the added difficulty of ministry. If a farmer knows how to deal with barley and rye properly, his success rate will be very high (as there are often factors beyond his control). Barley and rye don’t fight back. Ministry involves people, free moral agents who sometimes, though they are barley, insist on being treated like rye, or goats as sheep. Consider God’s lament over Israel:
“An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master’s manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand.” (Is.1:3)
Finally, I will say, God created us to reflect His image as moral agents. When we, instead, begin to live according to our impulses, urges and emotions, we begin to act like (but never become) unreasoning animals (2 Pe.2:12, Jude 1:10). Though the illustration may seem a little confusing, this is not what Jesus wanted His followers to be, even though He called them sheep. Love and ministry involve dealing with the reality of what one has at hand in a proper and effective manner.
 sheep (Mt.9:36, 10:16, 15:24, Jn.10, 21:16-17, plus many more), goats (Mt.25:32, 33), serpents (Mt.10:16, 23:33), vipers (Mt. 23:33), doves (Mt.10:16), unreasoning animals (2 Pe.2:12, Jude 1:10), ravenous wolves (Mt.7:15), soil (Mt.13:23 [good], Mt.13:19-22 [bad]), trees (Mt.7:17, 18 [good & bad]), branches (Jn.15:5), wheat (Mt.13:25), tares (Mt.13:25), four fools (throughout the book of Proverbs)