The eastern shepherd - a Sunday School 'play' that the kids really enjoyed - by Pat Franklin

 We had a wonderful time in our Sunday School lesson as the kids learned how an eastern shepherd dealt with his flock of sheep in the time of Jesus. 

The lesson was based on Psalm 23 and John 10, and the facts of shepherd life came from the fascinating little book 'He Leadeth Me' by C.W. Slemming.*

We always start with a short prayer asking the Lord to help us learn more about Him and love Him more. Then we sing a song, which this week was in a round - 'The Lord is my shepherd; I'll follow Him always.  Always, always, I'll follow Him always.'

Then I told the kids, aged 3-11, that we were going to do a play, but we had to build a sheepfold first.  We put the chairs in a circle, leaving an opening for the 'sheep' to go in and out.  We talked about the most famous shepherd boy in history - the boy who became King David, and how as a lad, the youngest in the family, he looked after the family's sheep. 

One of the boys was chosen to be the shepherd, and I tied a tea towel around his head with string.  This primitive headgear would keep his neck from getting sunburned in the Middle Eastern heat.

We talked about the things a shepherd carried:

  • A sling to fling stones which would kill wild animals or enemies who threatened the flock.  David had plenty of practice before he faced Goliath!
  • A rod - a club for close combat in case the enemy was too near for the sling
  • A staff - the shepher's crook with which he could snag a sheep's leg and rescue it if it was caught in a thorn bush etc
  • A jar of oil - to smear on the sheep's faces to keep them from sunburn. It was also used to pour oil around snake holes to keep the snakes from biting the sheep's noses. Snakes apparently will not crawl over oil.
  • A collapsible lamp like a Chinese lantern.  When the sheep were put in a sheepfold at night and one was missing, the shepherd  would put a little oil light in his lantern, leave his sheep with other flocks in the fold, and retrace his steps, looking for the lost sheep.  Other shepherds would be there, so he knew his sheep were safe which he searched.  It might take all night, but if he found his lost sheep, he would tuck it into his coat and bring it safely back.  No doubt he would say to the other shepherds: 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the sheep I lost!'

Our shepherd, a boy named Luke, used a walking stick for a rod, an umbrella with a curved handle for a staff, a little jar for oil, and a small flashlight for a lamp.  All the other children were sheep, and we started our 'play' with them on all fours in the sheepfold.  The younger children loved doing this, and started 'ba-ing' at each other.  The older children stood around and watched, but they found it interesting.

Our shepherd had to lie across the opening, since the eastern sheepfolds had no door or gate.  We talked about how Jesus said He was the door, and no one came to the Father except through Him.

Then the shepherd had to call his sheep out.  They were all mixed up with other sheep, but they knew the voice of their shepherd, and they all came out to his side.  We talked about how Jesus said His sheep know His voice and would not follow the voice of a stranger.

Then the shepherd led them, because eastern shepherds always led their sheep; they did not drive them.  We talked about Jesus saying that His sheep follow Him.

Then we got into Psalm 23 as Luke led the 'sheep' who were crawling on all fours around the room. 'He makes me to lie down in greeen pastures.'  Our shepherd made them stop and rest in a green pasture, even though they weren't tired.   He knew there was a hard road ahead, and they would need a little rest first.

Then the shepherd led them 'to still waters.'  Sheep do not drink from rushing water, so our shepherd used his staff, pretending to scrape a little channel from a  stream, and scooping out a little puddle where they could drink. 'He restores my soul.'

Then came danger: 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.'  We pretended one boy was a bear, and the sheep were not alarmed because the shepherd was leading and he used his rod, pretending to kill the bear.  David, of course, killed both a bear and a lion, either with his sling or the rod.

'Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of my enemies.'  The shepherd came to a lush green pasture, but made the sheep wait while he checked around for snake holes in the ground.  He poured a ring of oil around each one, and only then allowed the sheep in.  We talked about how we could enjoy the Bible and completely trust in the Lord, despite anyone who would mock or scoff at the truth.

The shepherd led them on again, and found some sweet herbs which were growing too high for the sheep to reach, so he picked them and held them behind his back.  The sheep who walked closest to him would nibble the herbs as they walked.  We talked about how Christians now who walk closely with Jesus every day by reading the Bible and trying to serve Him would be rewarded with precious insights!  The sheep which were straying off in other directions would miss out on the most delectable bits!

Then the shepherd led them back to our makeshift sheepfold, and counted them in - but one was missing!  He had to leave them there with the other flocks while he lit his lamp and went back to search for the lost sheep (a girl who was hiding in another part of the room).  He hunted all round until he found the sheep, and then brought it back to the fold, where the other shepherds rejoiced with him.  We talked about how Jesus said that there would be great rejoicing among the angels of Heaven over a sinner who repented, more than over 99 who had no need to repent!

We had not practiced any of this. In fact it all sort of came together at the last minute.  When I read Mr Slemming's book about the eastern shepherd, I knew it was the thing to do for Sunday School. At our church and usually four of us  take turns doing it once a month. We don't follow anyone else's guide, but each of us asks the Lord what He would have us bring for the children.  Although I knew I was to bring the information about the eastern shepherd and work it into Psalm 23 and John 10, I really didn't know how to do it.  With the wide range in ages, I knew the  younger ones would never sit still if it was just me talking. 

I felt a bit worried about it, and had a few pages printed out and a picture to color, but I knew it wouldn't work like that.  Then I woke up early that morning with the thought that we could make a sheepfold from the chairs, and I should take a tea towel for a headdress.  Then while having breakfast I suddenly thought - oh, yes, sweet herbs!  We have some herbs growing outside and on a windowsill, so I just picked a small bouquet of them to take - some mint, basil, thyme, lemon balm.  They smelled wonderful!

For a rod I took a walking stick someone gave us,  an umbrella for the staff, a salad dressing jug for the jar of oil and a flashlight for the lamp.  I didn't take any oil, because it would probably have been spilled and maybe stained someone's clothes.  We had 'pretend oil.'

The kids were excited to hear that we would do a play.  Most of them wanted to be the shepherd, but I said only one could be the shepherd, and then chose Luke, who made a very good one.  One boy wanted to be a 'baddie,' so he was the bear. The younger children just loved being sheep and, like real sheep, they needed a bit of controlling!  I was basically just reading out scriptures and talking, directing the shepherd on what to do next, making all the main points about the eastern shepherds of Bible times which I learned from Mr Slemming's book.  

 I am so very grateful to the Lord for giving me the idea on how to get the message across.  It  worked so well, and the kids really got into all this, partly because they didn't have to just sit and listen (which the little ones would not have done anyway!).  And hopefully they learned more about the Good Shepherd.

I hope that someone out there in internet-land will be able to use this in their Sunday School or children's group - what a privilege it is to introduce these wonderful truths to little ones.  And I thoroughly recommend everyone in the entire world to get hold of a copy of Mr Slemming's little book!

*Published by CLC, Christian Literature Crusade





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