SBC Life Articles

BAPTIST ASSOCIATIONS Lessons from the Llama

Clear skies, a brisk breeze, and quiet—absolute quiet. I had not drawn an elk tag, so I spent the first week in the hunting camp cooking and cleaning, awaiting the opening of deer season the following week.

As director of missions for Lake County Baptist Association, north of downtown Chicago, I was enjoying a period of relaxation and spiritual renewal in the magnificent quiet of the remote camp. I was on a hunting trip to Ten Sleeps, Wyoming, with a pastor who sponsored an annual wild game dinner at his church as an evangelistic outreach.

Our campsite was nestled in the pines of the southern rim of a canyon. Our tents, along with my box, Bible, and binoculars were perched about five hundred feet over a basin below. The slope of the canyon was gentle enough that the view was breathtaking.

It was the season when ranchers took sheep off the plateaus and highland grasses. They would pen and load entire flocks on semi-trailers to be moved to warmer locations for the winter. Thousands of sheep were moving through the area. The pristine quiet and clean air disappeared in the clouds of dust and the bleating of sheep.

Until this particular morning, all the sheep had been moving away from me, from the south and west. On this morning I noticed one flock of about a thousand sheep moving toward me instead of away. It was curious enough that I laid my Bible aside for a moment to look through my binoculars.

I could see no shepherd. I panned the area around the large flock. Though they were more than a mile away, I could clearly see there was no shepherd in front, no shepherd behind. As they continued to approach, I could see three Border Collies at the rear. They pushed the reluctant, older sheep forward; they nipped at the heels of the young, fighting rams that were dragging behind. “Certainly, these three dogs are not guiding the sheep up the canyon,” I mused.

As I watched, I realized that the sheep dogs could not see over the backs of the sheep. They were not driving the flock; they were following, too. They did not know where they were going. They were merely solving problems. I immediately named them “deacons.”

I scanned the flock, wondering if the shepherd was somewhere sleeping off his inebriation. Then, I noticed a llama at the front of the flock. It would raise its head from grazing, look up the mountain, then turn to look back at the sheep. The sheep would simultaneously raise their heads. The llama would move ahead twenty or thirty yards, then stop and graze from the grasses of the canyon floor.

In a moment, the llama would flip its ears forward, raise its head from grazing, look up the mountain, turn to look back at the sheep, and flick its tail. The sheep again raised their heads. The llama would move ahead another twenty or thirty yards up the canyon and stop and graze.

I did not know much about llamas at the time, but suspected that the llama had a brain about the size of a BB. “Surely that llama has not been trained to lead a flock of sheep to some destination,” I thought. The llama remained near the front of the flock. Again and again, it raised its head from grazing, looked up the mountain, turned to look back at the sheep, flipped its tail, moved ahead another twenty or thirty yards, and returned to its grazing. Each time, the sheep imitated the wooly, much taller llama.

When they had drawn inside one hundred yards of my position, I could clearly see the eyes of the llama. It was then I noticed the routine was not accidental. Each time the llama perked its ears and raised its head, it looked in exactly the same direction. I turned to see where the llama was looking. There, seated at the top of the canyon in a lawn chair, was the shepherd. As long as the llama could see the shepherd, it knew where to go. Otherwise, it was no wiser than the sheep that followed.

Overcome with the fact that God’s silent voice was speaking, I realized, “That’s what a pastor does. As long as he knows where the Shepherd is, he knows where to go. If not, he wanders just as the sheep would.” A pastor is responsible to know where Jesus is, what a straight line toward Him looks like, and how to guide the flock to get there.

I learned later that shepherds use a silent dog whistle to notify the llama that it is time to move. That’s why the llama’s ears perked up as it raised its long neck to get a clear view of the shepherd. The pastor, like the llama, has a different perspective than the flock.

I also learned that the llama is a fierce combatant toward predators. It will instinctively attack threats to the flock.

Hebrews 13:17 says, Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

Llama well, my pastor peers. Listen well, watch constantly, and move as the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus—the Shepherd of the church!


    About the Author

  • Bob Ryan