by Holly Culhane
Protection is a pivotal responsibility of shepherding well. The “act of safeguarding, shielding another from harm, or guarding against danger”, as we’ve defined it in the Leader’s Shield, is an imperative element of influencing others positively and leading well.
In some regions, shepherds use a mesa to serve as the summer range for their sheep. This requires they make preliminary trips into what could be rough, wild country and survey it with great care, assuring the area is suitable for the flock. The preparation requires determining where the best and safest bed grounds are for the sheep and where a supply of salt and minerals can be placed, for their well-being. Shepherds need to check for poisonous weeds and, if necessary, design a grazing program to avoid them or, potentially, a plan to eradicate them all together. And, of course, the shepherd must always assure there’s a clean water source, clearing out watering holes, springs, and other sources of water that could be dangerous. And just think, all this work happens before the sheep are even moved to the mesa to graze!
Dr. Tim Laniak (shepherdleader.com) made his first trip to the Middle East in 1977, but an opportunity to study shepherds in Israel, Jordan, and the Sinai came much later in 2003 when he took a sabbatical in Jerusalem. Combining library research with field interviews, what he learned began to shape his understanding of biblical passages on leadership in unexpected ways.
In his book, While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks, Dr. Laniak notes he “found shepherds constantly referring to the need for protection, since a wilderness environment is both a source of nourishment and a hub of hazards”. He noted that “shepherds have to exploit the life-giving assets of these desolate settings while protecting their flocks from ever-present daily threats”.
Those he interviewed described their dogs and rifles, and the security of their sheep pens, and he heard story after story about hyenas, panthers, wolves, and thieves. But it wasn’t the animal kingdom or humankind that were the only threats, he noted the geography and climate also conspire against the welfare of a herd, with the threat of the sand, the sun, the wind, and the floods. For shepherds in the Middle East, this is their reality.
What are the realities where you shepherd?
- Are you in an environment that requires your team to labor together effectively? If so, how are you guarding the individual team members from concerns specific to your situation, location, or industry?
- Is your team working in an ever-changing technological environment that regularly challenges and tests their limits? If so, how are you helping them manage their emotional well-being and address their health and welfare?
- What planning has gone behind the next change you’ve been asked to introduce? How are you working to anticipate the inevitable conflict between team members? .. how are you tackling the conflict that exists among your flock now?
- How are you preparing those you lead for what you know is ahead as your business or ministry cycles through its seasons each year?
Interestingly, the origin of the word “protection” is revealing and directly relates to this responsibility as a shepherd. It’s from the Old French and Late Latin and means to “cover in front”. Yes, planning is part of the essential component of protection!
David, the shepherd, warrior, King, and psalmist, beautifully highlights the protection of our Good Shepherd when he writes,
This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
May you “cover in front” those you lead today, living into your calling as shepherd with great intention and care.