The questionable shepherd

I am thinking about the idea of the pastor as shepherd and ways that this metaphor is helpful and unhelpful. (I’m writing an essay on the topic.)

One of the things that I think is problematic about that image is that it is generally associated with a hierarchical and authoritarian style of leadership where the pastor tells the (stupid and helpless) flock of sheep what to do. One pastoral theologian actually says something along the lines of, ‘You’re not supposed to teach them, you are supposed to guide them,’ as though it isn’t important for the people to learn anything – just to do what the pastor says.

Anyway, one of the things I have been struck by is the fact that it seems shepherds weren’t actually considered to be very trustworthy people. Because a lot of shepherds were hired to do dangerous work, there was often a high chance they’d run away if there was danger. There was also a reputation for stealing sheep or trespassing on neighbours’ pasture. In a world where pastors have betrayed the trust they have been given, I wonder if it is actually helpful to recover the idea that the shepherd has a questionable reputation?

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