This is not because I love roast lamb. Nor because today is the start of the World Sheep Shearing Championships in New Zealand (Watch how to do it here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/video_and_audio/headlines/38914372). Nor is this animal blog week. But it's because I need to keep remembering that time with individuals is important.
As you probably know sheep have a big part to play in the Bible. God's people are often referred to as sheep and the Lord is their shepherd. Most famously in Psalm 23. And with God every sheep matters. As a pastor ( a word taken from the Latin for shepherd) it is vital that you share that commitment, that every sheep matters.
Because Christian ministry is about people not programmes. People who have real lives. Messy lives. People who sometimes prioritise coming to church and sometimes don't. People who sometimes want to live wholeheartedly for Christ and sometimes don't. People who may well appear to put more into church than they get out and people who appear to take more out of church than they put in. People who will energise you and people who will drain you. People who will be a pleasure to see and people that you will have to pluck up courage to speak to.
Sheep come in all shapes and varieties. What they have in common is that they all matter. Every individual sheep. Even if you have 1000's turning up on a Sunday, every sheep matters. Even if they won't get on board with the church's exciting vision, every sheep matters. Even if they refuse to listen to you as you desperately try to help and encourage them, every sheep matters.
Jesus tells some self-righteous religious leaders a story that emphasises the importance of the individual in Luke 15. It's the story of a shepherd: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?" (Luke 15:4) Every sheep matters.
When the shepherd finds the sheep he rejoices. It's a picture of God's determination to see awkward, sinful, rebellious sheep brought into his fold. "I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." (Luke 15:7)
I've had a week chasing sheep. There have been some really encouraging meetings. I have rejoiced. But sheep chasing can be dispiriting at times. It can seem like you've got them into the flock and then the minute you turn your back they've wandered off again.
It can be easier to knuckle down at my desk and push paper. Paper is easier to handle than sheep. It can be easier to sit at my computer and write blogs. Even computers are more co-operative than sheep. But in the end finding and shepherding sheep is what the Lord is doing. So it's what pastors do.
Every sheep matters.