In his renowned work, "They Smell Like Sheep" Dr. Lynn Anderson challenges all of us to lead like Christ, the good shepherd. (John 10:14) He insists, "while the term 'shepherd' produces warm images of love, care, and tenderness, it also describes a form of leadership that is perilously protective, dangerous, dirty, and smelly." Essentially the book goes on to say that true discipleship is no walk in the park, rather, if you are truly going to be a shepherd you must become well acquainted with the muck and mire of the sheep. The concept of being fully invested in the lives of sheep has been paramount in my own life as my husband and I just transitioned our family into full-time missions. A lot of preparation has gone into our recent transition as we have prayed, strategized and raised support but I have to admit I have been caught off guard by what it means to smell like the sheep we seek to minister to.
The other day my mother and I decided to take the kids to the downtown library. The flagship building is a fixture of our innercity and is surrounded by the typical sights and sounds that city life brings. A homeless man and his friend tried to make eye contact while we locked our car. Next, an addict walked by, her clothes leaving little to the imagination. And we almost instinctively clutched our purses as another group of teens came near. When we made our way to the library door the pungent fragrance of pee filled our nostrils. The library is a haven for the homeless and mentally ill who seek refuge from the heat of the day and the cool of the night. My stomach turned as I took it in and my only thought was to find the closest exit to escape my surroundings.
I am pretty sure at least some of you are now judging me for disdaining my humble surroundings (and it's ok I am judging me too! :-), but can we just be real for a minute? It is extremely uncomfortable to love the unlovable, to touch the untouchable, and to engage in true community with those who smell like urine. I utter these words with remorse; being a minister and missionary I should know that loving as Christ loves means eating with sinners, drinking from wells with fornicators and standing up for adulterers. When Jesus himself looked out among the crowds, "he had compassion on them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:36) As I scurried to get away from the all-encompassing smell of human waste, I can't help but wonder where is my own compassion? Will I let a person's foul smell steer me away from touching their heart?
The act of shepherding is an intimate one. Sheep require a commitment of time and sacrifice. As the shepherd toils in the sheep's environment, dirt, grit, and funk are inevitable. It's only a matter of time that a good shepherd begins to smell like sheep. As I have come to commit my life fully to the sheep in my own environment I am pressed to seek God's strength as each sheep carries with it, its own unique smell. Some smell like depression, addiction, criminal activity, and yes some even smell like pee.
You can read more about our journey here https://blogs.bible.org/engage/christen_jacobs/comfortable_christianity_