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A Letter from the Interim Associate Pastor to Presbytery

You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sheep Dog
March 15, 2012

Dear Friends,

Most of you have learned by now that a new way of being presbytery in community with one another as we carry out the mission of Christ’s church is in the works. (If you haven’t, click here.) The days ahead will be filled with prayer, reflection, conversation, and even questions about a vision of what it means to be church together in the part of God’s commonwealth called Pittsburgh Presbytery.

Among the many stimuli for my own thinking was the treat of getting to be a guinea pig for a video series on church leadership in the New Testament produced by Presbyterian Media Mission featuring Dr. Ken Bailey, Biblical scholar, long-time professor in the Middle East, and western Pennsylvania treasure. When the series launches in a few months, it will be available to download free of charge thanks to the support of the Synod of the Trinity. You'll get word when it's ready to go.

One of the segments previewed for presbytery staff was Matthew 18:10-14 where Jesus tells the disciples about the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep safe on the mountain and goes in search of the one who went astray.

The footage of sheep out in the fields brought to mind an image of a sheep-herding demonstration in Scotland six years ago. The shepherds were showcasing the amazing abilities of sheep dogs. It was fascinating to see the deftness of the dogs as they separated out certain parts of the flock and steered them in the right direction, while also attending to the occasional stray. How did they know what to do?

A shepherd explained that voice commands did not work since the dogs could not distinguish between the words “left” and “right” because they both ended with the same “t” sound. The way the dogs knew the correct direction for the sheep to go was to stay in focused relationship to the shepherd so he could point the way. The dogs had to keep the shepherd in view. Thus for me was born a new image of the church: sheep dog.

The dogs are selected and trained by the shepherd to seek the outsiders/wanderers (“the least of these?") and draw them into the community where they can be safe. At the same time, the dogs offer direction to the insiders at the shepherd’s behest.

Could this image describe the church, the Greek word for which is ecclesia, meaning the ones called out of the world to witness in the world about God’s redemptive love in Jesus Christ. Elected and commissioned for service by the Good Shepherd, the church carries out His mission, ever and always keeping the eyes of its heart on Him. Without that devoted focus, everything falls apart.

We are his sheep dog: as churches, as presbytery, as church. It’s humbling, good news that God provides such care for the sheep despite their small-ness in the animal world.

Our new presbytery mission plan has emerged from dedicated prayer and study.  While there are many changes, in at least one sense it does not call for anything new. The mandate to proclaim the Gospel and for one anothering easily could have been God’s graffiti on the boulder rolled away from the empty tomb those millennia ago.

How we live out the mandate in the time ahead has new elements as well as those that are tried-and-true thanks to churches, leaders and staff who have faithfully focused on the Shepherd.  As always, how we live together, how we share with and care for one another -- whether the one or the ninety and nine -- how we assume new work and new workloads together are key. It’s a matter of how we sheep dog as we go into unfamiliar fields. It's a matter of how we give of our whole selves. Hasn't it ever been so....

You don’t need to be invited to pray. You’re already doing that. I just ask that you pray for constancy in focus for a way of life together that is sheep-tested and Shepherd-approved.


The Rev. Carol Divens Roth, Interim Associate Pastor to Presbytery

Click here for the directory of archived letters.