During the mid-‘90s, a vacationing midwestern family, the Oberdecks, stopped at Wall Drug in South Dakota. If you’ve never been to Wall Drug, it’s a sprawling series of gift shops all under one roof and occupying a full city block in the little Badlands town of Wall. You can buy about any sort of souvenir at Wall Drug.

Dr. John Oberdeck scanned through the store and settled on one item: a long, wooden shepherd’s staff. It caught his attention and he figured that at some point he could make use of it. He was a professor at Concordia Seminary St. Louis and he thought that the staff might make a good teaching illustration.

That opportunity came when my father asked Dr. Oberdeck to preach for his installation at a new church in 1996. During the sermon, Dr. Oberdeck pulled out the Wall Drug shepherd’s staff and used it as his sermon illustration. He gave it to my dad as a gift and then for many years it hung on the wall of his office.

Fourteen years later, after I had begun pursuing pastoral ministry, I decided to attend Concordia University Wisconsin. By that time, Dr. Oberdeck was serving in CUW’s theology department. I remember taking a challenging class in Christian doctrine with him. I still return to the content from that course as I teach the faith!

On July 22, 2012, I was ordained into the office of the ministry. On that day, Dr. Oberdeck’s Wall Drug shepherd’s staff was re-gifted to me by my dad. He inscribed two Bible verses down the length of the staff, words from the Apostle Paul in Acts 20:28 & 32: 

            “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. … And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

Paul’s words continue to remind us what it means to serve as pastors and leaders in our Lord’s church. The Church is the Lord’s flock for which He, our Good Shepherd, laid down His life. He calls pastors and laity alike to care for the church of God through our words and our service to our fellow members of the Lord’s flock.

Several years later (2015), another veteran pastor from Wisconsin, Dr. Hal Senkbeil, introduced me to a different way to look at shepherding through a story by Christian author Evelyn Underhill. In her essay, “The Teacher’s Vocation,” Underhill uses a sheep dog to illustrate what it means to care for the church of God:

            “That dog was the docile and faithful agent of another mind. He used his whole intelligence and initiative, but always in obedience to his master’s directive will ... The little mountain sheep he had to deal with were amazingly tiresome, as expert in doubling and twisting and going the wrong way as any naughty little boy. The dog went steadily on with it; and his tail never ceased to wag. … His relation to the shepherd was the center of his life; and because of that, he enjoyed doing his job with the sheep, he did not bother about the trouble, nor get discouraged with the apparent results. ... He was the agent of the shepherd, working for a scheme which was not his own and the whole of which he could not grasp; and it was just that which was the source of the delightedness, the eagerness, and also the discipline with which he worked. But he would not have kept that peculiar and intimate relation unless he had sat down and looked at the shepherd a great deal."

How do sheep dogs operate? With one eye on the Shepherd and the other on the sheep. They listen both for the Shepherd’s commands and they listen for the cues of the sheep. 

Serving in our Lord’s church is no different! Like faithful sheep dogs in our Lord’s service, may the Lord keep each of us focused both on Him, our Good Shepherd, and on caring for the needs of His flock around us.

            Peace in Christ,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke