The other evening the emcee for the National Dog Show commented that the herding dogs needed not only the ability to run quickly in a straight line, but also side to side. I immediately thought about how pastors need both kinds of movement, but often aren’t good at the side-to-side.
I have seen Australian shepherds do this, dart from one side of the flock to the other to keep the sheep from scattering and to keep them moving forward. I have seen this less often among pastors. Often we get the strong alpha-male visionary pastor who sprints towards God. He looks behind only to discover no one has kept up, some have sprained ankles (or hearts), and others have veered off. The pastor may not be alone at this point, but may find only the natural leaders have kept pace. Just a pack of dogs romping on the hill.
Side-to-side pastors keep their eyes on the flock and move quickly when sheep bolt. With a yap and if needed a nip, they keep the flock safe and together. I watched a pastor do some of this once. A member of the congregation had fallen into some serious immorality. Many pastors would have let the person drift away from the church in shame and bondage. But this pastor walked to the house, sat down with the people, and called them to repentance. In the end, he saved a life and a soul.
But the side to side isn’t just for strays, sometimes the flock can drift too far to the left or right. All those pursuing God passionately get excited by new revelation of God’s character or truth. If the pastor gets a fresh burden for the lost, the whole church may spend the next five years working a personal evangelism program. When the pastor discovers how desperately the church needs to experience community and body life, the congregation is divided into small groups. If the pastor reads about God’s chosen fast in Isaiah 58, the soup kitchen opens and the clothing drive starts. All good stuff.
The side-to-side pastor, however, helps his flock avoid extremes. He can share new revelations and directions without giving the flock whiplash. Salvation by grace is balanced with a call to discipleship. Ministry to souls is balanced with compassion for people’s physical needs. Teaching God’s Word is followed by doing God’s Word. Having eyes on the flock helps the side-to-side pastor detect any drift of the flock too far in any direction—even good ones.
I’m not sure why side-to-side pastoring is so rare in the church. Some flocks probably want pastors who ignore spiritual straying. Of course, we use the term pastor for anyone called to ministry including teachers, prophets, and evangelists, so we sometimes get leaders with no gift for herding. Many may have prophetic vision for where God wants to take a congregation, another may have a gift for bringing in new Christians to pursue that vision, and teachers may equip believers with the truths that sustain them on their journey. But without the side-to-side, sheep-herding pastors, the congregation will never arrive where God has called them.
Of course, we want sheep dogs—not wolves. And many have been burned by pastors who are controlling the flock, so want a pastor with no bark or bite. At first thought, being herded like a bunch of sheep may not be appealing. We need not be afraid because the best herding dogs have eyes on their flock, but ears tuned to the voice of the master.