“One flock, one shepherd” … or … “sheep without a shepherd?”

Jesus as the Good Shepherd from the early Christian catacomb of Domitilla/Domatilla (Crypt of Lucina, 200 AD). How does the idea of “one flock, one shepherd” impact your partnership?
Jesus as the Good Shepherd from the early Christian catacomb of Domitilla/Domatilla (Crypt of Lucina, 200 AD). How does the idea of “one flock, one shepherd” impact your partnership?

Jesus said:

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16 ESV).

Consider the words, “… one flock, one shepherd.” Imagine how this rang in the ears of the first disciples, who knew that likely thousands of shepherds were taking care of likely hundreds of thousands of sheep! How could just one shepherd lead and take care of all the sheep? It surely must have sounded like a radical idea.

What does Jesus mean by “one flock, one shepherd?” Later in John’s gospel, Jesus gives us insights into what he means concerning oneness among his followers.

John 17:20–23

20 I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,
23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

For the sake of the subject of this blog—cross-cultural partnership—and in light of the fact that life on our planet has become dominated by globalization, consider this:

On the one hand, the benefits of globalization represented by the Internet and inexpensive air travel can be a great help in aiding the church in its unity and practice of cross-cultural partnership; it is simply so much easier to communicate today than just ten years ago. On the other hand, there is a risk that modern methods become an end in themselves … that Christian leaders rely too heavily on such things as management systems and marketing communications. This, in turn, undermines dependence on God and ultimately, the goal of Christian unity. It can be summed up by the words, “Amplified opportunity, amplified threat.”[1]

Amplified opportunity: Church history has never had the enormous advantages of the powerful global communications tools which globalization and the Internet afford us today. This blog is one of a billion examples. Could it be that globalization has given us communication tools to facilitate this “one flock, one shepherd” ideal of Jesus Christ—so that Christ’s plan for unity amidst diversity can be more fully realized than ever before in human history?

Therefore, in the light of God’s global purpose to bless all peoples
through the gospel of Christ, could it be that to ignore cross-cultural partnership
as a key method for world evangelization is to fail in stewarding
one of the greatest advantages the church has ever known?

Amplified threat: The features of globalization consist of such things as extremely powerful global communications … inexpensive air travel … market-based economic systems … and international cooperation by individuals (not just nations and corporations). You may ask, How is globalization a threat? Simply, this: I believe many Christians, myself included, are often seduced into thinking that these powerful tools are a substitute for relying on the leadership and provision of our Shepherd. But the Bible says there is a relational depth—a beauty, wisdom and effectiveness—that is available solely from following our Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Could it be that those of us engaged in cross-cultural ministry partnerships
have to be extra intentional in listening to our Shepherd and to each other—
in order to guard against the default culture and inherent spiritual biases of self-reliance,
modern systems, and such practices as results-based management?

Consider the words of Mark 6:34: “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” Could it be that when Jesus sees us relying primarily on our modern technologies, global communications tools, management systems and fund-raising strategies—he sees us being technologically rich but spiritually poor? Could it be he sees us as “sheep without a shepherd?”

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1. The words “amplified opportunity, amplified threat” and related concepts are from an article by Os Guinness: “Mission modernity: Seven checkpoints on mission in the modern world” in Sampson, Samuel, and Sugden, Eds., Faith and Modernity (Oxford: Regnum Books, 1994).


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