Identity & Purpose

Lessons from a Modern Shepherd

Doug Bender

March 24, 2022 | 3 minute read

Do you ever feel run down and overwhelmed? I do, especially this time of year. It’s still cold outside (at least here in Pittsburgh). There are no school holidays in sight. And summer vacation is still a distant hope. It’s now when I find myself needing to be reinvigorated and refreshed. A few years ago, I bought some sheep and became a modern shepherd. And as odd as it sounds, I have learned some simple and vital truths through my sheep that helps me brush away some of life’s weight.  

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

I had my sheep for about two weeks when I learned the truth of this quote from Jesus. Every day, multiple times each day, I feed my sheep. I give them hay and top off their water. But for the first couple of weeks, my sheep never came near me. 

Then one day they were at the top of the hill chewing on some grass when I came calling. They heard me and something inside of them had changed. They had learned from my daily feedings that I was actually their caretaker and a member of their flock. So this day, when I called, they ran to me. They leaped and jumped for joy. They let out loud “ba’s” calling back to me. They ran full speed towards me, not away, as if their life depended on it. 

That picture of them running with absolute and genuine joy is forever stamped into my mind. When Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice,” this is the picture he had in mind. It’s not like a dog that comes if you yell loud enough or a child that comes if they decide they want to. This is like a sheep. And when they hear their shepherd’s voice, they come full of joy and anticipation, trusting the heart of their shepherd to care for them. I now know I can run to Jesus, too.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

I also had heard this line from Jesus countless times as I grew up in church. But I didn’t understand its true essence, until a pack of coyotes came through my farm. I was in the kitchen doing dishes. I had shorts, a t-shirt, and socks on. It was winter and dark and the ground was wet with rain. And I heard in the distance the sound of a pack of coyotes. It’s a loud and raucous sound full of ferocity and raw energy. And I had in my field my flock of sheep with two newborn baby lambs. 

Instinct completely overtook my body. I dropped the dish in my hand and jetted out the door in my socks. I ran through the mud, the rain, and the cold. But never felt a thing. I had no real plan. I only had pictures of wild coyotes eating my baby lambs overwhelming my imaginations. I ran past my woodshed where I picked up my ax. I didn’t know what I would find when I reached the top of my hill, but I was ready to throw my body and my ax into the middle of it. But when I got there I could see my fence had held. No coyotes had gotten in and my lambs were safe.

Jesus said he offered his life to save ours. But I often wondered if it was a chore for him to do this. Did he prefer not to, but somehow felt he needed to? But now I understand. I ran up in my socks in the mud and the rain with nothing but an ax to face a pack of wild coyotes. And I did this without a second thought. Why? Because I love my sheep and this is what good shepherds do. This is what Jesus does for us.

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”

I actually didn’t know the answer to this question for a long time, until I found one of my lambs freezing to death in the snow. She was only two days old when a big snowstorm hit our area. I went up to the field and found her huddled in a ball, not moving. I thought she was dead. 

I ran up to her and picked her up. Her breath was slow and uneven. I put my finger in her mouth and it felt like ice. I had a plan for this event. The plan was to allow nature to take its course. That sounds harsh, I know. But the alternative was taking this farm animal into my home where I would need to bottle feed it 6 times a day (and night) for the next three months. But as I stood there in the snow with this baby in my arms, I could not just set her back down to die. I carried her into my home and there I nursed her back to life. 

The answer to the question is “Yes.” Any shepherd would go to extreme lengths to save a member of his flock. I let my house smell like a barn for most of this winter to save my lamb. And I would do it again in a heartbeat. Thankfully, Jesus would (and has) done the same.

I don’t know what dangers or troubles you have in your life, but I hope my experiences as a shepherd can refresh your spirits and give you some comfort. When you follow Jesus, he has promised to be a good shepherd to you. Maybe you haven’t had the pleasure of being a shepherd yourself, but take it from one who has: if Jesus is your shepherd, you have nothing to worry about. 

Doug Bender

Doug Bender

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer and small groups coach. He developed many of the small group tools found at and has coached churches, organizations, and individuals to use I Am Second groups to share the message of Jesus with their friends and family. He also works with I Am Second's parent organization, e3 Partners, as a church planter and pastor in countries such as Ethiopia, Colombia, and the US. Doug and his wife, Catherine, have four children: Bethany, Samuel, Isabella, and Jesse.

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