Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sheep Herding or Shepherding?

Though things have come a long long way since I was a child; if I were to make an overall assessment of the state of things at the local level in the Church, I'd still have to say that we are maintaining a culture of Sheep Herding.

Sheep Herding is distinguished by the method used to move the sheep from one destination to another.  The Sheep Herder drives the sheep from behind, commonly using dogs to bark and nip at their heels.  The Shepherd leads from the front inviting the trusting sheep to follow where he leads.

I do not doubt the sincerity of the Sheep Herders among us.  Their intent is to take us to the same destination as the Shepherds.  I just question the method.  During the past week I have had conversations with three individuals who are balking at the prospect of full participation in Church activity.  Each of them cited circumstances that make activity awkward, if not down right repulsive.  In short they have sore heels.  Their natural inclination is to avoid the Sheep Herder and his dogs and take their chances in the wilderness.  I also had a conversation with a Sheep Herder, who, observing a Sheep willing to chance the wilderness, said, "Let him!  I haven't got time to go chasing after him in his foolishness.  I've informed him of his duty; my duty is discharged!"

To my mind, this is a bit of Babylon creeping around in the culture of Zion.  Most of us in the work-a-day world are exposed to employers to ply tactics of Management By Objective.  Most of them misapply MBO as it was intended.  So, most of us are over exposed to a failed Leadership technique, which we despise, but having seen nothing better, continue to use.

The scenario is this:  Management establishes and assigns the objectives.  Labor is expected to produce the objectives and is judged, rewarded, punished or praised based upon the level to which the objectives are met.  If and when the objectives are met, Management ups the ante by extending the objectives to a higher, and then higher standards.  The temptation, as money is the object, is to create the objectives around productivity.  Management wants the Golden Egg.  Trouble is, most commonly, they want ever more eggs, while having no regard, or appropriate objectives, that apply to the proper care and feeding of the Goose.  (See Stephen R. Covey, 7 Habit of Highly Effective People.)

Too often we bring MBO to church with us and apply it to our callings.  We set attendance objectives, Home and Visiting Teaching objectives, service objectives, Temple attendance, and on and on.  Doing so, we seem to know no other means of achieving them than barking, threatening, scolding, and demanding.  The numbers become the Golden Egg and we have forgotten the Goose.  We are seeking our own Salvation instead of the Salvation of the Sheep.  We are quick to justify our positions with examples and scriptures.  I mean was Enos not using the Sheep Herding technique when he said:
23 And there was nothing save it was exceeding harshness, preaching and prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, and all these things—stirring them up continually to keep them in the fear of the Lord. I say there was nothing short of these things, and exceedingly great plainness of speech, would keep them from going down speedily to destruction. And after this manner do I write concerning them.
Sounds fun doesn't it?  I remember as a boy this was the primary method of keeping us on the straight and narrow.  Seems like every six months they trotted out Brother T. to scare the Dickens out of us with his hell-fire and damnation, end of the world, doom and gloom gospel.  Hardly sounds like good news to me.  When we were in Primary we loved Jesus, but by the time we finished High School we were scared to death of Him.

Sheep Herders, then and now, cannot conceive of a people who might, of their own volition, choose to follow the voice of The Shepherd.  In their subtle self-righteousness they assume that they are the few, chosen to save the rest.  They dare not turn and lead, for fear no one will follow.  Now, perhaps the Nephites, who were still laboring under the Law of Moses, needed such an approach; but these are days when God has entrusted the fullness of His Gospel to us.  Days in which the Melchizedek Priesthood is entrusted to every worthy man.  Days populated with the valiant who were saved to come forth at such a time.  They will follow, it is in them.  If you don't believe it conduct an experiment upon my words, turn and lead in patience, meekness, gentleness, kindness, long-suffering, persuasion, love and faith.  See if it is not true.  It took that very experiment to persuade me, and I was amazed at the results.  I have yet to be moved upon by the Holy Ghost to reprove with sharpness and suppose that to be a rare moment in the life of a Shepherd.

The numbers are not the objective.  Or they should not be.  Numbers are nice for measuring progress and accounting for our efforts, but they must never be the objective.  We are about caring for the sheep, that is the objective.  If one of the sheep is balking, or lagging behind are we too blind to see that it is hurting in some way?  Are we unwilling to see to its needs?  Are we so set on accomplishing our goals that we see that sheep as an hindrance, annoyance, or obstacle?  Are we unwilling to fetch it from the brambles and carry it upon our shoulders for a while?

Now, fussing over this during the night I spoke with my daughter.  She pointed out that I was, in my frustration, turning into a Sheep Herder, ready to nip at the heels of my fellow Shepherds.  It was quite a splash of cold water.  It is a tendency that lies in all of us.  Foolishly, in defense of the Sheep I had allowed myself to forget the fact that the Shepherds/Sheep Herders are also Sheep.  Sheep in need of nurturing and love, in need of being led by the voice of the Shepherd.  It is a cultural change we all must make.  It is one we will make, for we have been promised Zion.  Let us each turn and lead.  Let us each return and nurture.  When they trust that we only wish to love and care for them, when they stop fearing and avoiding us, soon enough, they will follow.

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