Church Livestock

kinnon —  February 27, 2013 — 28 Comments

Rev. Dr. Muttonbutt

My buddy, Dave Fitch responded to another friend, Ed Stetzer on Ed’s “assault” on the “mega church sheep stealing critique”.

I love’em both, but probably agree with Fitch’s argument more than Ed’s.


That’s not what this post is about.

Rather, its about the imagery. Of livestock. As a metaphor for the people in the pews.

Hey, Kinnon. It’s biblical.

Indeed, madam. You are correct! Sheep as a metaphor for God’s people is, in fact, to be found in the Scriptures.

Sheep were highly valued. Then.

Think of Jesus’ story of the one lost sheep, and the shepherd who left the 99 to search for that one.

How quaint.

I would suggest we view sheep with much less value today — if we view them at all.

And what of the shepherds? Well, then they were were possibly the lowest of the gainfully employed. (Think of Jesse not even considering having his youngest son, David, the shepherd, come to be consecrated by Samuel.) Shepherds lived with their sheep. They smelled like their sheep. They knew each one by name. A single shepherd tended no more than 100 sheep in New Testament times.

Today, returning to the church livestock metaphor, a shepherd (or pastor, in its latinate form) with only 100 sheep would be considered a failure. And how could any “successful” shepherd be expected to know all of “his/her” sheep.

Might I suggest the metaphor breaks down in its present usage within the church. And that this misused/misunderstood metaphor is responsible for much damaging separation between those who call themselves shepherds and “their” sheep — as if the shepherds are their owners. (Sheep cannot be stolen — except from their owners.)

Might I further suggest that the use of the phrase “sheep-stealing” is particularly bizarre amongst those who call us to be missionally-minded.

The reality is that we are all sheep. Or none of us are. (Shall we save the goats for another conversation?)

UPDATE: My buddy and City of God blogger, Dan Gouge ramps this up a notch or eleven with The Factory Farms of Christianity.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

28 responses to Church Livestock

  1. If sheep can only be stolen from their Owner (God) … then the idea of “sheep stealing” among churches takes on somewhat evil overtones. Just sayin’ … maybe if leaders stopped using numbers as a … hmmm … measuring stick this would not be a problem.

    • Amen, Sis. Amen. Too many Reverend Doctor Muttonbutts are more concerned with numbers than people.

  2. In keeping with this poignant analysis, the only pastor to whom I would entrust sheep would have to be Basque.

  3. When did Muttonbutt get his doctorate? Last I heard, he only had an M.Div.

  4. I do now!

  5. All I can say is when church “leaders” view and treat sheep like veal, it’s because they’re industriously carnivorous.

  6. All right…I like this alot. And I’m a pastor. Of course, maybe it’s because I’m trying to become an authentic one….wait….that doesn’t sound very humble. Oh, well. You, sir, make great probing points.

  7. Great point, Bill. It is a real tension, as the language of “sheep/shepherds” in the church is fairly established. We need to rekindle the imagination and find better imagery. However, I can’t help but think that the organic imagery in Scripture, while no longer as relevant to our context, is still far more beautiful than most of what we have to work with now. Interestingly, as I look for better language, I seem to find it with indigenous theologians. Telling…

    • Jamie,
      When we view sheep and shepherds through first century eyes, the imagery is beautiful. The shepherd loves and protects the sheep he cares for — who would normally either belong to the shepherd’s master or the shepherd’s extended family (see pre-king David), they are not normally his own.

      21st Century, pre-dominantly urban, Western Christians view sheep as dumb, smelly and only somewhat useful. And that attitude, I believe, too often translates to how “shepherds” view “their sheep.”

  8. I clicked over from David Fitch’s post.

    Your post is terrific, Bill. When one has a commodity view of sheep, you value sheep for their production value. Sheep become assets to be milked, sheared and slaughtered, if need be. Jesus told us how lovable and valuable one sheep is.

    Because the institutional church has become a financial “cash sheep” – it used to be cow, a sheep is a customer who pays for the church products and services. So, a sheep pays to keep the lights on in all the buildings and shepherds’ homes, invites new sheep. A bonus is they get to share the message of God’s grace. Forgive my cynicism. I really do love the true Church of Jesus Christ. I love Jesus and I love His sheep.

  9. Bill

    You write…
    “And what of the shepherds? Well, then they were possibly the lowest of the gainfully employed.”

    Yep – Shepherd was always a low place. – Pastor is NOW a high place.
    A Profession with Power – Profit – Prestige – Honor – Glory – Reputation.

    ALL those things Jesus spoke against. He humbled Himself. Phil 2:7-8.
    ALL those things that become “Idols” of the heart. Ezek 14:1-11. KJV
    ALL those things highly esteemed among men – but…
    Are an abomination in the sight of God. Luke 16:15 KJV.

    And, In the Bible, I can’t seem to find one of His Disciples who had the “Title/Position” pastor/shepherd/leader. Go figure… 😉

    Hasn’t anyone ever wondered? Why? In the Bible?
    NOT one of His Disciples called them self pastor/shepherd/leader?
    NOT one Disciple called another Disciple pastor/shepherd/leader?

    In my experience…
    “Titles” become “Idols” …… “Idols” of the heart NOT easy to lay down.
    “Pastor” become “Masters”…….. A No, No. Mat 23:10 KJV.

    And, if someone tells you their “Title” is NOT an “Idol?” Just ask them to lay it down. And become a good example to the flock. Walk away from the Power – Profit – Prestige – that comes with the “Title.” And become a “Servant of Christ.” Take a low place.

    Ever try saying that to a Senior Pastor/Leader/Reverend? Ouch!
    I double dare you. 😉

    Now, I might have missed it – BUT…
    In the Bible – The only “ONE” I find with the “Title” Shepherd is – Jesus.

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall “hear My voice; “
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice – One leader

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  10. Bill

    Jesus is the best Shepherd – Yes?
    And His Sheep are very special Sheep. And we be “His” Sheepies. 😉

    We can “Hear His Voice” and follow Jesus. NO middle man. Jn 10:27.
    We can learn directly from Jesus. Jesus will teach us all truth. Jn 6:45.
    We are His Kings and Priests unto God. Rev 1:6, Rev 5:10.
    We are His Bride. He is our husband. Isa 54:5, Rev 21:9.
    We are His Servants and He pours out His Spirt upon us. Acts 2:18.
    We are His sons “Led” by His Spirit. Jn 1:12, Gal 4;6, Rom 8:14.
    We are His Disciples learning directly from Jesus. NO middle man. Mat 16:24.
    We are His Ambassadors, delivering His message of love. 2 Cor 5:20.

    And, an Ambassador, is the highest diplomatic representative,
    that one sovereign power sends to another.

    So – There is NO one in the Kingdom of God higher then
    one of His sheepies – Who are Ambassadors for Christ. 😉

    I NO longer have much faith in humans who think they are shepherds.


    Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    **their shepherds** have caused them to *go astray,*

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
    BUT are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    I’m Blest… I’ve returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of my soul…

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  11. A funny thing occurred to me reading this. We no longer have shepherds tending a 100 sheep or so, we now have all kinds of commercialized factory farming… Are megachurches the factory farms of Christianity?

    • Factory is a good metaphor for an institutional mega-church, Dan.. Institutional mini-church might be a small factory. Once when I worked at a mega-church and the CEO said that he didn’t need shepherds, he needed ranchers. It makes sense to me because, in my opinion, a mega church has a higher appreciation for business production values than an Acts 2 values.

  12. Bill, its interesting that you should point out that “pastor” is the Latin form. Although it is now an English word, it should never have been, since there already existed a direct equivalent (shepherd) to the Greek. I was wondering about that a few months ago and did a little research. Until the Geneva Bible translation, the English translations all used shepherd. Here’s the list:

    A History of the Translation of Ποιμενας (Ephesians 4:11)

    405, Latin Vulgate: Pastores
    1519, Erasmus Latin: Pastores
    1382, Wycliffe: Shepherds
    1526, Tyndale: Sheperdes
    1535, Coverdale: Shepherdes
    1537, Matthew’s: Sheperdes
    1539, Cranmer: Sheperdes
    1541, Great Bible: Shepherdes
    1551, Taverners: Shepeherdes
    1557, Geneva: Pastours
    1582, Rheims: Pastors
    1611, KJV: Pastors
    1731, Wycliffe: Sheppardis
    1862, Young’s Literal: Shepherds
    1867, Darby: Shepherds
    1899, Douy-Rheims: Pastors
    1901, ASV: Pastors
    1962, Phillips: power to guide
    1969, NLV: gift to be church leaders
    1971, RSV: Pastors
    1982, NKJV: Pastors
    1984, NIV: Pastors
    1987, Amplified: Pastors (Shepherds of his flock)
    1989, NRSV: Pastors
    1992, GNT: Pastors
    1993, NRSVCE: Pastors
    1994, 21st Cent. KJV: Pastors
    1995, CEV: Pastors
    1995, GW: Pastors
    1995, NASB: Pastors
    1998, Complete Jewish Bible: shepherds
    1998, NIRV: Pastors
    1998, WE: Pastors
    2001, ESV: Shepherds
    2001, ESVUK: Shepherds
    2001, WYC: Shepherds
    2002, Message: Pastor-Teacher
    2003, HCSB: Pastors
    2005, NCV: Work of caring for
    2005, TNIV: Pastors
    2006, ERV: some to care for
    2006, NET: Pastors
    2007, NLT: Pastors
    2011, CEB: Pastors
    2011, NIV: Pastors

    I can only surmise that a smelly mud covered sheep herder didn’t fit the image the Reformed church wanted to portray and so they copied the title that the Latin church gave to their clergy. It was essentially a reversal of the Reformation. With the popularity of the Geneva Bible, the KJV followed suit and “pastor” became an English word endowed with 1200 years of Catholic tradition. At least that’s the way I see it. Others might interpret the history differently.

    • Thanks for the research, David. Much appreciated and great insight for this discussion.

  13. I expanded on my thoughts here

  14. What else would you expect from Stetzer?
    He’s a regular here:
    link to

    • RP,
      Although I may disagree with Ed on certain things, I know him to be both a good guy and an honourable man. Although his theology leans Reformed, he works with Arminians like me and Anabaptists like Fitch, as easily as he does with those in the Reformed camp. His heart is for the Kingdom.

      • Glad to hear it.
        Coming from you, I consider that credible.

        But Setzer seems to be chameleon-like, so that he gets invites and speaks at certain megachurches that have a reputation for spiritual abuse – which creates the impression that he somehow endorses them. And, if he does not endorse them, why give the appearance?

        Although Stetzer has written some stuff that might imply he is not onboard with them, he does not go so far as to name names, like you would and have. So, although Stetzer may be a decent enough guy, he can be perceived as an opportunist who remains silent in the face of great harm being perpetrated against the flock.

  15. It may not be especially relevant to your point, but I think our cultural disconnection from farming and animal husbandry does make it difficult for many people to appreciate properly such parables and metaphors. How can a person understand the image of a good shepherd if the person knows nothing about sheep or shepherds? For what it’s worth (very little I imagine), I wrote about that here: link to


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