Pastors and leaders guided by the relationship principles Jesus taught His own disciples often think of themselves as shepherds. The biblical Greek word for shepherd translates into Latin as pastor. Knowing more about Sherpas may help you as a shepherd or pastor since you both have limited flocks and unlimited commitment.
“Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves;”–Matthew 17:1
Sherpas know the way, show the way, and have a personal stake in getting everyone to the summit and back without loss or injury. They guide, teach, serve as examples, and empower; Sherpas do not command. Their authority is the product of experience and character, not punitive or corporate power.
Do You Influence or Create Impact?
Sherpas are doers, achievers, and servant leaders to others who commit to walk the trail a Sherpa knows well. Both shepherds and Sherpas live with their people, remain with the flock, or walk with the trekkers they agree to guide.
As a horse professional, I can influence a herd of fifty horses. Caring for their physical needs is manageable, and I can get them all moving in one direction. That influence, however, is general, not transformational.
But when I commit to one horse, I create impact. I can transform its life and spirit, introduce possibilities it never considered, offer confidence and boldness by establishing myself as a worthy leader committed to its growth, security, and benefit–no matter what.
For this horse and a few others, I can earn unshakable focus and reflexive obedience. Involved leaders make total commitments to their limited flocks.
What is a Sherpa?
The word Sherpa originally meant “people from the East” and is pronounced “shar-wa” by the Sherpa themselves. The Sherpa village is the starting point for scaling Mount Everest, also known as Sagarmatha or Chomolungma, whose height is roughly 29,000 feet or five and a half miles.
Traits of a Sherpa
- Walk the road by themselves before guiding others.
- Are called by the mountain, not by coercion.
- Prepare the way for a flock of climbers.
- Are hard-working, peaceful, and courageous.
- Lead by example into places of familiarity and safety.
Sherpa leaders don’t send a message, give instruction, or ask anyone to do what they aren’t willing to do themselves; Sherpas lead the way. The difference between a genuine Sherpa and a pretender is familiarity with the territory, the experience of mapping it, and intimate knowledge of the dangers and tempting short-cuts along the way.
Sherpa Leaders Know the Way
Sherpa leaders know where perils lie and how to avoid them.
Sherpas lead those less experienced to the summit of something that used to live only in mythology or a dream world. The summit is transformational for the few who commit to the climb. The guides who lead climbers to the summit of Mount Everest are Sherpa leaders.
Each member or your flock or climbing group crossed your path with a unique history and set of expectations. Some are loners with no flock experience. Others wondered what lives at the top of the mountain but never considered climbing it before. The commonality among them all is that they don’t know how to get there.
That’s where you come in. There is no shepherd or Sherpa without followers.
What is a Shepherd?
Worthy shepherds are Sherpa leaders and more. Most climbers who follow a Sherpa are interested in conquering the mountain. Only a few go on to become Sherpa leaders themselves. The goal is achievement; the prize is the experience, proof of ability, and maybe bragging rights.
Faith leaders are disciple makers. Their goal is to produce more like they are; New Creations who resemble Christ more each day.
- Caretakers, overseers, and protectors.
- Made able by the One who issued the call that drew you into service.
- Eager for the love of Him who called and those you serve.
- Known for leading by example (Sherpa).
“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.“–1 Peter 5:2-3
Jesus Was The Original Sherpa Leader
Many of the most significant events in the life of Jesus happened on a mountain, from His wilderness temptation to transfiguration to ascension.
Jesus was the original Sherpa leader. He walked the road, paid our way, and leads us to the finish line. As a Christian pastor, Bible teacher, or minister, the journey you share with your flock leads to the Chief Shepherd. It is His rule, His character, His care, and His brand that you carry.
The most liberating realization is that being a shepherd isn’t about some man with a crook, but about the man who brings home to the fold whatever sheep the Chief Shepherd chooses. God gave your sheep to you for guidance, encouragement, correction, and care.
You neither choose them nor scheme to skim a few good producers from the shepherd in the next valley. The Chief Shepherd calls, assigns, and watches.
The Shepherd Knows the Sheep
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”–John 10:27
Shepherds laugh and weep with their flock. The antics of sheep are as ridiculous as their illnesses grave. From the joy and promise of each newborn lamb to the grief and pang of loss when one returns to its Creator, the role of shepherd is not a role accepted without counting the cost.
Pastors are called to shepherd their flocks by the power of the Holy Spirit. Whomsoever God calls, He equips. The likelihood that your flock will be stronger, more grateful, and able to share a genuine hope in Jesus Christ depends on you.
It’s impossible to know when to protect rather than persuade, bind up rather than hurry up, and speak over rather than speak into without inspecting each sheep, knowing its personality quirks, and recognizing potential trouble before it reaches critical mass.
That level of intimacy is only possible with a flock of limited size.
It’s a lonely life. Shepherds are never off the clock. Successful pastors pray more, study more, and seek after the mind and heart of Christ more than others. Yours is the ultimate stewardship challenge.
Seek the Lost One or Remove the Disobedient
Sherpa leaders do the riskier parts of the climb first, run ahead to set up ropes and ladders, and are increasingly responsible for the safety of clients who pay for their expertise. Even so, having a Sherpa guide is no guarantee against death on the mountain.
“But some clients, struck by summit fever and knowing that they may only have one shot at the top, start to take risks and push safety limits.”–CNN Travel
Protecting the Flock from Flockmates
What happens when one of a shepherd’s most beautiful and productive ewes teaches her lambs the wrong habits and leads others to follow her into dangerous territory?
“I could not allow one obstinate, discontented ewe to ruin the whole ranch operation. It was a difficult decision to make, for I loved her in the same way I loved the rest. Her strength and beauty were a delight to my eye.
But one morning I took the killing knife in hand and butchered her. Her career of fence crawling was cut short. It was the only solution to the dilemma. She was a sheep, who in spite of all that I had done to give the very best care–still wanted something else.”–Phillip W. Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23
No one can be all things to all people. (Paul tried.) How many sheep can one shepherd care for without help? Fifty, a hundred? How many are in your flock?
What’s your goal; to offer shallow mountain experiences to many or guide a few to the peak?
Jesus Only Had Twelve
Shepherds and Sherpas commit to a particular set of sheep or climbers and lead them all the way to the top and back.
“If you are going to make disciples you are going to have to walk with people, and help carry their burdens! Following Jesus and making disciples is not about having all the right answers as much as it is about entering life with someone and walking with them – just like a sherpa. We need a shift in the Church from the guru (the Pastor, small group leader, staff member, etc.) pouring knowledge into the brains of would-be disciples to walking with one another through challenge and success. We need more sherpas, not gurus.“–Pastor Andy Lucas
It’s possible for me to transform the life and nature of horses because I love them, care for them, keep my promises, and am accessible. In the same way that Jesus knows me, I know my horses better than they know themselves.
They trust me and know my voice.
Let God Count the Sheep
No shepherd cares for every sheep. Each one knows which sheep are in his covenant flock. You may love all sheep, but not to the same degree. Some you claim and some you don’t. I love all horses, but they don’t all live in my barn.
Care for your sheep, but let God count them and be the ultimate provider.
Shepherds and Sherpas have a deep, almost covenantal relationship with those who commit to follow them.
Faith leaders are disciple makers. They are more than Sherpa leaders, purposing to produce more like they are; people who resemble Christ more each day.
Even the most successful Sherpa cannot transform himself into Everest. The ultimate summit experience for the shepherd is when his sheep resemble the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
“You cannot make a climber. Climbing makes a climber.”–Greg Curtis
A note about pronouns: I use “he” and “his” to simplify the reading experience. Many Sherpa leaders and shepherds are women. I doubt that Sherpa leaders, some of whom are female, get too excited about pronouns. Their job is to guide, protect, and develop–as is ours.
Related posts: Leadership–Horsemanship–Discipleship
Another related post: Great Listeners Are More Effective Teachers and Preachers
Lesson and Bible Study Options For Today
You know the world is a mess. Something is desperately wrong in many families, and common ground hides wherever common sense went. What happened? Why are your family and friends the way they are, and what can you do about it?
God’s Word is clear. There’s an end to business as usual in this world. It’s here. Not the literal last day, but the last times.