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“A shepherd should smell like his sheep.”

If you think about the above statement, it seems like common sense. Of course a shepherd would smell like sheep. After all, it is his job to spend his time around sheep. It is his job to follow sheep, herd sheep, find sheep when they are lost, and discipline sheep when they get out of line. And a job like that keeps someone walking where sheep walk. It keeps them stepping where sheep step. The lint of wool should be on their garments and the odor in their skin. So goes the life of a shepherd.

This little nugget may be common sense, but it drilled deep into my core when I heard it last weekend. Like a lead balloon, this truth sank into my heart as I thought over its significance.

These words fell off the lips of a pastor by the name of Thabiti Anyabwile. He was speaking at the 9Marks conference at my seminary this weekend. Along with several other well known preachers and teachers, Thabiti was speaking on the topic of conversion in the life of a believer. His sermon, based in I Thessalonians, made mention of the minister’s responsibility to those people over which God has made him an overseer. It was in this context that Thabiti brought this simple truth to life.

A shepherd should smell like his sheep.

In other words, it is only right that a worker bear the marks of his trade. It is only fitting that one’s mission will inevitably leave its traces and make its imprints. The scars of battle are fitting trophies for the soldier. They are the marks of a job well done.

It is the clarion call of scripture that the minister is a shepherd to his people. He is an overseer of their very souls. God has entrusted him with the lives of a congregation, of a body of believers. It is a heavy responsibility indeed, and it cannot be done from a distance. The call to shepherd is a call to live in the middle of a broken but redeemed people. It is the call to get involved in their lives. Sometimes it means stepping in a mess. Other times it may mean getting bit by the very sheep you’ve been called to tend.

Nevertheless, a shepherd should smell like his sheep.