Canadian Mennonite
Volume 12, No. 15
July 28, 2008

God at Work in the Church

Tending flocks

Why sheep work so well as biblical metaphors, but not so well in urban Canada

By Karin Fehderau

Saskatchewan Correspondent

Clavet, Sask.

Participants study the penned sheep while John Harder, right, explains flock behaviour. Harder’s presentation used many scripture references and he kept his Bible handy.

About 20 people travelled to a sheep farm near Clavet on the morning of June 20 to hear Harry Harder talk about sheep and shepherding.

Harder, who has been managing a flock for more than 20 years, also works part-time as a pastor at Pleasant Point Mennonite Church. He invited all those who were interested—but specifically Mennonite Church Saskatchewan pastors—to spend a day at the farm and learn about sheep and shepherding and “why the metaphor works so well in the Bible.”

Observers followed Harder around the farm, hearing first about the animals and then about shepherds. “Urban pastors don’t really understand sheep,” he noted, despite the fact there is so much in the Bible about sheep and shepherding.

He then spent the time dispelling myths and pouring new understanding into the subject. “There’s nothing holy about sheep,” he insisted. In describing the reality of sheep psychology, he made it clear that sheep don’t think for themselves and are completely dependent on humans.

During his five years in Palestine and the Middle East as a Mennonite Central Committee agricultural worker, he saw many shepherds interacting with their sheep. And it was there he learned about the animals.

Wildwood Mennonite pastor Pauline Steinmann watches the sheep after shepherd/pastor John Harder asked everyone to study the sheep for human characteristics.

In describing the original context for Jesus’ teaching about sheep, he pointed out how the interdependence between sheep and their masters would have been well understood in Palestine, but not in Canada. “We need a different metaphor for the Canadian context,” he said.

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