Seminary Can’t Teach You to Love Sheep

There are so many great things I can say about the seminary I graduated from. I loved my professors and my classes. But as many before me have stated, there are certain things you can’t learn in seminary. One of them is how to love sheep.

I think the biggest reason seminary can’t teach this is because you learn to love sheep, not by going to a school to study them, but by being with them. By being among them. You love sheep by knowing them. You love sheep by walking with them through hard times. And having them walk with you through your own struggles.

Ezekiel the prophet gave a scathing rebuke to the leaders of the nation of Israel, whom he refers to as shepherds. God’s judgment on these shepherds is that they did not love his people. They did not strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bandage the injured, or diligently search for those sheep that had wandered from the flock (Ezekiel 34:4). Instead these shepherds cared only for themselves. The result was that God’s people, his flock, were scattered with no one to seek for them.

God’s solution to the problem of shepherds who didn’t love the sheep was two-fold. First, he promised to, himself, be the shepherd of the people (Ezekiel 34:15). Second, he promised to set David as a shepherd over the people. David would love the sheep, the people of God’s nation, just as he cared for his own sheep.

As a young shepherd, David protected his literal sheep from enemies. On one occasion it was against a bear. On another occasion it was against a lion. Each time David risked his life to save his sheep. But then another enemy threatened God’s sheep, the nation of Israel. It was a giant named Goliath. Again, David loved the flock enough to risk his life.

But we know that David was a flawed shepherd. On another occasion, Nathan the prophet confronted David over his sin of not sacrificially loving God’s people. David had taken a wife from a man named Uriah, and had Uriah killed in war as a cover up. Nathan used an analogy to explain David’s sin: that of a man who stole another man’s lamb.

God’s people were still in need of a good shepherd, weren’t they? Of course, David knew that too. He is the one who wrote Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Seminary can teach you the kind of Bible study skills to give a quick survey like I just did of the biblical motif of God as shepherd. But what it can’t do is teach you to love the sheep. We will only get that through time and sacrifice, through walking together through valleys, mountain tops, pastures, through facing enemies, and seeing and sensing God’s provision through it all.

Of course, we see that God did keep his promise mentioned by the prophet Ezekiel. He did come, himself, to be our Shepherd (John 10). It’s here that we find our place to begin in learning to love the sheep. We must learn to love their Shepherd. We must learn to love our Shepherd. And we must learn to follow in his steps, to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bandage the injured, and diligently search for those who’ve wandered from the flock.

Let’s follow him through green pastures, beside still waters, and through the valley of the shadow of death, because he is with us and because we will be with him forever. And since, like David, we are imperfect shepherds, let’s point to the one good Shepherd. That’s not the least we can do. That’s the best we can do. After all, we’re sheep too.