Pastor Dale E. Austin John 10:1-10
One of the catchphrases which we hear batted around in our churches in recent years is “Servant Leadership”. Supposedly, it’s leadership based upon the model of Jesus Christ’s life and example, who by his own admission came to serve and not to be served. Unfortunately, for as much as we hear this phrase voiced over and over, I don’t see it being modeled very much among our denominational hierarchy. It reminds me of a conversation which I had with our District Superintendent not long ago, in which he was reflecting upon some of our churches where there is a lot of activity. He noted that a lot may be going on, but he couldn’t help wondering aloud, “is it being done in the name of Jesus Christ, or is it just a country club pretending to be a church?”
In the tenth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus speaks of shepherds, sheep and sheepfolds. At various points in his discussion, he will liken himself to the gate or to the shepherd. We have to follow closely to be sure of what he is saying.
Today, he refers to the gate. In doing so, he is not really speaking to the sheep – as we so often assume. Rather, he is speaking to the shepherds, those who will be given responsibility for the care of the sheep. Noting this, I’m not sure that he isn’t speaking to them throughout this chapter – even when he likens himself to the Good Shepherd whose sheep know him and follow him. Even then, he doesn’t speak of the sheep in terms of “you,” but as “they.” Perhaps this whole chapter is intended to direct his disciples in the correct style of leadership as they draw nearer to the end of Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus tells us that the only appropriate avenue to the sheep is through the gate. If he is the gate, then the way must be through him. Now, that’s not the only possible way, and he knows it. It’s possible, for example, to climb over the fence. But those who will try to get in by this method are not true leaders, true shepherds, as Jesus sees it. To climb over the fence is to break in – without proper authority and most probably, as Jesus suggests, with sinister intent or motivation. We only need to look at the history of Christendom to find a whole slew of supposed “shepherds” who were really building their own dynasty instead of building the Kingdom of God. Even today, in some of the mega-churches which many so eagerly try to mimic, you may only sometimes hear any reference to Jesus Christ. It makes us wonder how they got to the sheep. Was it over the fence?
Genuine Christian leadership, according to Jesus, will be through him and through our faith in him. “I am the gate.”
Those who are true shepherds will come to the sheep through that portal. There will be others who come with different motives and by different routes. Now don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing bad about wanting to make the world a better place, or to do what we can to serve the needs of those around us. But if we are encouraging people to do so because “it’s the right thing to do,” and not as a witness to our faith, then can we really call ourselves a church? The true shepherds will come to the sheep through the portal of Jesus Christ.
In the the United Methodist Church we recently celebrated “The Festival of the Christian Home.” We might wonder what makes a home Christian, in much the same was as we ask what distinguishes a truly Christian church from a mere fellowship or service group.
A large part of the answer to that question lies in what Jesus is telling his disciples today. For better or for worse, parents are shepherds. We shepherd our children through life, until they are ready to become shepherds themselves. Even then, we still hang around as advisors to the shepherds. Everything that Jesus has to say to his disciples in this chapter is also applicable as we guide our families through life. We can be genuinely good, perhaps even great, parents without necessarily being Christian. We can teach our children the difference between right and wrong, or good and evil. But that doesn’t make the home a Christian one. The appropriate portal of leadership, of shepherding, goes through Jesus Christ. We can raise our children to be good citizens, to be compassionate and helpful to those who are in need around them. We can teach them that it’s the right thing to do, that being human means taking care of our neighbors. But the distinguishing characteristic of a Christian home is that while those same lessons may be taught, there is that additional element of walking in the steps of Jesus Christ, of following his example and witness.
As parents we are shepherds, whether or not we asked for that responsibility. It just comes with the territory. The only question is, “Will we be good shepherds??