Tracking the Sheep

29 Aug Tracking the Sheep

Tracking the Sheep
John 10:1-18
August 26, 2018
Michelle Fincher
Calvary Presbyterian Church

How many of you love your job, or if you’re retired, you retired from a job you loved?  How many of you would say your job is okay, tolerable? How many of you either are now in a job you find miserable or you’ve had a job at some point in your life that was miserable?  Is so, you’re not alone. National job satisfaction surveys are conducted annually in the US, and they consistently show that at any given time, only about half of us like our work, but that’s actually an improvement from the 77% of dissatisfaction a decade ago during the Great Recession of 2007-2008.  


It was during the Great Recession that best-selling author Patrick Lencioni published a book called The Three Signs of a Miserable Job.  I have read some of Lencioni’s work, and his expertise on issues of leadership and organizational health for businesses as diverse as Fortune 500 companies, start-ups, and non-profits, translates easily into a church setting and has been very beneficial.  This particular book on miserable jobs was Lencioni’s contribution to dealing with a problem that he sees as having a devastating impact on individuals and on society as a whole.

According to the author, the most important factor for job satisfaction has to do with the relationships that are formed on the job, particularly the relationship between manager and employees.  More than salary, more than the work itself, more than the opportunity for advancement, relationships are key. From that core finding, Lencioni then points to three critical signs which, when taken together, create the perfect storm for job misery.  It turns out these three signs are a great lens through which to hear our Gospel message this morning, too, so I’m going to give you the three signs, then we’ll look at what Jesus is saying in John 10.

Sign #1:  The most telling indicator of job misery is anonymity.  “People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known,” says Lencioni.  People need to have a sense of being understood and appreciated for their unique personality, gifts and contributions, and that feedback needs to come from someone in a position of authority.  If people feel invisible or anonymous in the workplace, particularly to their supervisor, they won’t love their job no matter what it is or how much it pays. This is not about a desire for constant praise, just a sense that someone in authority cares about the people who work for them.

Sign #2 is irrelevance, not knowing that your job matters to someone, to anyone.  “Without seeing a connection between the work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee will not find lasting [satisfaction].”  This sign probably doesn’t surprise us. We want a job that has some kind of purpose and that impacts others. We want to feel that what we do matters, that someone would notice if we weren’t there.

Lencioni invented the word “immeasurement” to describe the third sign.  Immeasurement is getting at the fact that employees “need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution.”  In other words, we want to know how we measure up so that we have an opportunity to improve our performance. It might be as simple as measuring how many times a bagger at the grocery store makes someone smile or how long it takes for him to help customers through the line.  It turns out that a little bit of competition can be healthy.

Now, let’s see how these signs help us unpack Jesus’ words in John 10.  The chapter opens with Jesus engaged in a rather heated exchange with the Pharisees, a conversation sparked by Jesus’ healing of the man born blind in John 9.  The Pharisees are acting like the ultimate bad boss, engaging in religious ruthlessness rather than having compassion or celebrating the man’s healing. The blind man is anonymous, and the Pharisees don’t seem to care at all about him as a person; their concern is about the legality of him being healed on the Sabbath.  In response, Jesus draws on a different vocational metaphor to counter the misery-making legalism of the Pharisees.

It would be hard to imagine a more miserable first-century job than shepherding sheep.  Besides the grinding boredom of moving sheep back and forth from water to pasture to sheepfold, shepherds faced long periods of time away from home and family.  Living most of the time in the open, they were often pounded by harsh weather. Their nomadic life meant that they could dine on only the most basic foods. They and their flocks were in constant danger from animal predators like wolves and lions, as well as human predators like sheep-stealing thieves.  To top it all off, there was no cushy retirement or 401(k) matching. Shepherds were among the poorest of the poor.

So, it’s a shock that Jesus chooses to portray himself in the shepherding role to describe his relationship with his followers.  In doing so, he places himself firmly in the prophetic tradition such as we find in Ezekiel 34 which describes God as the good shepherd who cares for the sheep.  By calling himself the “good shepherd” Jesus, thus, identifies himself as fulfilling the role and promises of God.

Jesus sets up a contrast between the shepherd who cares for his flock and the “thieves and bandits” who come only to steal, kill, and destroy.  The Pharisees may have seen themselves as the benevolent bosses of the people, but Jesus is making it clear that their oppressive religious posturing is bringing the people nothing but misery.  They are clueless managers who just don’t get it. Jesus, on the other hand, understands the needs of his flock and is invested in bringing abundant life to those in his care. Following Lencioni’s pattern, here are three signs of Jesus’ abundant life:

Sign #1:  being known.  There is no anonymity with God.  The abundant life has everything to do with the relationship of the shepherd to the sheep.  For Jesus, the first and foremost sign of an abundant life has to do with knowing and being known.  “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”  If a basic human need is to be valued by someone in authority, Jesus is all over this one. We don’t serve a dispassionate, disconnected God who sits in a divine office dispensing orders.  In Christ, God knows us individually, values us, cares for us. In a world that seems to operate from a sense of scarcity, where the operative principle is always wanting, doing, or trying to be more, Jesus offers an abundance of love, grace and hope.

The church has always recognized the value of being known, not only by God in Jesus Christ, but by each other.  That’s why we place so much emphasis on hospitality and community. Church is that place where “everybody knows your name,” and well, if not everyone, at least enough people to satisfy our human need for being known and seen.  No one should be invisible when they walk through our doors on Sunday morning and it’s on each of us to take personal responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Sign #2:  relevance.  The love of God that Jesus talks about is not syrupy sentimentality.  Jesus will “lay down his life” and be the gate through whom all his sheep will come in and be saved.  The love and care of the Good Shepherd has a purpose. We are people who can make a difference. We are not just saved from the dangers of life apart from God; we are also saved for the mission of sharing the abundant life of Christ with others.  Jesus came to bring abundant life to all, and he says to us, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21)

Our relevance in the world isn’t based on job title, on what we produce, or how much we make.  “No one gets out of bed in the morning to program software or assemble furniture or do whatever it is that accountants do,” Lencioni says.  “They get out of bed to live their lives, and their work tasks are merely part of [that].” In other words, the abundant life embraces a larger vision of life and our place in the world.  As Paul puts it, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) No matter what job, family or life situation we are in, we find relevance when we see our connectedness to the purposes of God for the whole world.  

Sign #3:  Ministry, not measurement.  At the end of his book, Lencioni says, “I have come to the realization that all managers can—and really should—view their work as a ministry.  A service to others.” Whether you manage employees or your children or a classroom or your own life, viewing your work as a ministry is a step toward understanding your relevance.  

Measuring the abundant life involves a different kind of math than the rest of the world uses.  The abundant life is always concerned about how much one gives rather than how much one gets, so it is outward focused rather than inward.  If there is a measuring stick for the followers of Jesus, it has to be the Good Shepherd himself. We measure ourselves by asking, “How well did I represent Jesus today?  How did I reflect God’s presence in my life? Did I move the kingdom of heaven a little closer to earth today?”

Research has shown that job misery spills over into other areas of life—health problems, addictions, and broken relationships are just a few of the byproducts of a miserable job.  We weren’t created to work or live this way. We were made to enjoy a fulfilling and life-giving relationship with God and with others. We were created to live with purpose and to measure our lives not in terms of the dollars we earn or the stuff we accumulate, but by the amount of love we give and receive.  

Jesus came that we might “have life and have it abundantly.”  Is that the kind of life you are living?  If not, your Eternal Shepherd wants to give it to you—today, this very moment.  Will you trust him? Will you follow his voice? He is the One, the only One, who of his own accord has laid down his life, so that you can know the life-changing, abundance-producing love of God.   Thanks be to God. Amen.



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