Sheep can't read

By Al McNicoll

sign reading "all sheep gather here"

Sheep can't read. I realise that this will only be a revelation to those who spent more hours watching Babe than revising for GCSE Biology, but while it is far from a deep theological truth, it affects our reading of Scripture greatly. You see, God describes himself as the Good Shepherd, and the Bible is overflowing with teaching and narrative concerning sheep. We are often the sheep, and sometimes the under-shepherds.

In a world where sheep don't read, that second role of "under-shepherd" involves quite a lot of hard graft. And why shouldn't it? Look at what the head Shepherd does! When he sees that one of his sheep is lost, he doesn't stick up a big sign saying "safe pasture here - come back" - he leaves the others and goes looking for it. In the six short verses of Psalm 23, God provides, rests, leads, encourages, guides, cheers, protects, comforts, provides again, defends, exalts and blesses his "sheep" David. God doesn't just write down for David what he needs, he leads him to it and ensures that he makes use of it. God is proactive in seeking David's good. It follows that we too need that proactive approach.

Who are these lost sheep after whom we should seek? First and most obviously, those who haven't put their trust in Jesus. Most people we come into contact with have a wealth of options for accessing the Gospel - in print, audio, video, infographic, you name it - but what they need is a strong invitation, a warm welcome, and a commitment to walking with them back into the fold.

Then there's the people we meet at a crossroads. They might just have moved to the area, and are deciding whether they're going to "do Church" again; they might be drifting away from God because of life circumstances or disappointment. They need a faithful under-shepherd to get alongside them, and bring them back to the chief shepherd.

That's what a family called the Rundells did for me when I became a Christian. Aged 14, I had no clue how much my life needed to change. The Rundells had invested a great deal of love and prayer into helping me decide to follow Christ, and might have hoped that with that decision, I'd be reading my Bible, working it through in my head, and then living it out. Thankfully they didn't leave me to my own devices! They walked me through ups and downs, continually drawing me into the life of God, until I stuck. And where they left off four years later, the student pastors here at OCC took over.

This pastoral attitude is the antithesis of asking "am I my brother's keeper?" Instead it asks, "what else could I do for their benefit?" It might be noticing a face you haven't seen for a while, and dropping in on them; perhaps praying daily for someone who's struggling with doubt; it might be banging on your friend's door at 9:30 every Sunday morning to help them follow through on their intention to get along to Church - or a host of other prayers and actions.

So my point about illiteracy amongst sheep is this: it won't do just to put up a big sign over the King's Centre saying "Jesus info point" or to spell out on our website that we welcome new people. God wasn't content just to write down all the answers in a book - he came and lived among us, and remains with us in the person of the Holy Spirit. Who can you walk alongside, in partnership with the Chief Shepherd, to see them safely into the fold?

Al McNicoll