ONE DAY, THE SHEEP WERE ENJOYING THE SUNSHINE and the green grass on a breezy afternoon. The “baa’s” were a sign to the shepherd that everyone in the flock was having a wonderful day together. “This is what I have always wanted,” said one sheep to another, “a place where I can be with my own, free to roam in the afternoon with friends, but also safe enough at night in the sheep pen from the unknown of the woods.”

As sundown approached, the shepherd started gathering the sheep into the sheep pen. “45…60…70…80,” he counted. “95, 96, 97, 98, 99…???” The shepherd was shocked. One of the sheep was missing from the pen. “Everyone! I must have your attention,” said the shepherd summoning the 99 with urgency. “We have an emergency! One sheep is missing. She’s out there in the woods. Come daylight, we must go to find her!”

AT DAYBREAK, the shepherd gave a short training seminar on how to rescue a sheep in the woods. He recounted stories of how God had used him in the past to bring back lost sheep. He then re-organized the flock into rescue teams and gave them a programmatic process to seek out the lost sheep, which he called by the acronym, S.H.E.E.P. (Saving Helpless Ewe’s by Evangelism and Protection). They were excited about how God would use them!

At 8:05 AM (the second hour of the day in Hebrew culture), the shepherd released the sheep to find the lost ewe. The shepherd was hopeful that the training, modeling and inspirational stories as well as their team approach would have the lost sheep back by the mid-noon hour.

When the sheep got to the edge of the woods, only a few went forward. But most hesitated. In fact, the vast majority of the flock went back to the comfort of the pen. “We need more training and prayer first,” said one sheep. “I realized that my role is to support the others who are the sent ones,” said another. Another felt that posting a picture on social media of the group walking towards the woods was enough. Still another said, “I know I should go into the woods but…I just can’t right now because of all of the other things going on. Do you have any idea how long it takes for me to clean the wool of my family?”

The shepherd loved the 99 sheep. But he also loved the one lost sheep. What was he to do? He wanted the other 99 to have a good pen life together. But when the one ewe went missing, he knew they had to find her. The shepherd believed he had been faithful. He had trained, inspired, and encouraged them, even equipped them through S.H.E.E.P. to accomplish their mission.

THAT NIGHT AS THE SHEEP LAY SLEEPING, something finally dawned on the shepherd…the pen was the very thing that was holding them back. He had equipped them and encouraged them to be sent out. But the sheep were not strong enough to leave the pen to go into the scary woods. Given their new mission, he realized he had to redefine what a “new pen” should look like or they would never leave the old one.

THE NEXT MORNING, WHEN THE SHEEP AWOKE, they sprung to their hooves. The fence around the pen had vanished! “Meeeeeeh!?” said one. “Baa…Baaaaa…d” said another. When they looked up, they saw the shepherd standing between them and the woods where the lost sheep was believed to be. “Beloved,” said the shepherd, “I am here to feed you and shepherd you and protect you. But because of this lost ewe, the old pen that held us back will now be replaced by a new pen. Our entire flock will now be a new moving pen in the woods rather than me trying to motivate you to leave the old pen to go into the woods. You are free to stay here where the old pen used to be or to wander elsewhere. But if you want me to be your shepherd, then we are now going to rescue the ewe together. Our new moving sheep pen in the woods will be closer to God’s definition of what a sheep pen should look like. There’s now no more old sheep pen for us to hide in anymore.”

And with that, the shepherd took a step towards the woods.