This came up today with some parishioners as we looked at the upcoming lessons for "Good Shepherd Sunday." Someone asked, "Are we like sheepdogs when we do the Shepherd's work?"
Despite the lack of good dogs in Scripture, I liked that idea. In its shepherding analogies, the Bible usually reserves the term "shepherd" for religious leaders, so "sheepdog" isn't a bad description of lay people who share and expand the shepherding work. In healthy congregations, you find lay people reaching out to the lost, guiding others toward spiritual care and provision, protecting the flock (especially by the work of prayer) and going after folks who are wandering off. It doesn't mean that the shepherd doesn't do these things, but good leaders train and empower others to share the work. This is what Christ the Good Shepherd does with his "under-shepherd" apostles. So perhaps the under-shepherds need to pay more attention to fielding sheepdogs.
If you've ever experienced herding breeds, you know that their instincts are in their DNA. A Border Collie that's never seen a sheep will keep its master's kids from running out in the street, for example. That's another nice application of the "sheepdog" idea - the good qualities practiced by devoted lay people become part of a congregation's DNA or culture.
All symbols and metaphors have their limits. When it comes to shepherds, sheepdogs and flocks, what's important is that all find fulfillment when they stay under the care and guidance of Christ, THE Good Shepherd.
(That's our dog chewing on a bone. Not sure what work she represents.)