While recently reading back through the Old Testament book of Ezekiel (see entry, Ezekiel, my son), I ended up spending some additional time reflecting on chapter 34 – a passage that God used to challenge me in my call as a pastor several years ago. In my present context (serving in ministry outside the church), it has been easy to sometimes forget, even overlook this call and responsibility that God has given me as a spiritual shepherd; yet, God has been gracious in recent months as He has continued to affirm and re-affirm my pastoral calling, not only though the volunteers I have the privilege to serve and empower at OCC, but in particular the individuals and relationships that I have been surrounded with that have served to call this gift forth. (I would also be remissed if I failed to mention how humbled I am in light of grace that God would allow me or see me fit to serve Him in such a way. May we never stop boasting in the cross!)
I continue to go back to a conversation (actually, one of my job-interviews with Samaritan’s Purse) over 3 years ago, being asked why God was calling me away from pastoring and out of the church. I recall my response to that question, which was pretty immediate and filled with confidence: God hasn’t called me away from pastoring, nor has he called me away from the church. I am even more convinced today than ever, that regardless of what I am doing vocationally – whether working for an international relief organization, or working behind the counter at Starbucks (which I’ve always thought would be awesome!) – I am called to pastor in the context of life that Jesus has given me, and I am called to actively serve and participate in the work of His Body, the Church, which for better or worse is how He chooses to reveal Himself to and redeem the world around us. My gift as a pastor, as with other gifts, is meant to build-up and contribute to both areas.[By the way…a little aside here – Interesting how we often only associate pastoring to the context of holding a title or a paying-job within the local church, isn’t it? I wonder how many pastors are sitting in our worship services on Sunday mornings who are waiting for someone to acknowledge and affirm this call on their lives outside of the context of preaching every Sunday and leading a church? Even worse, how many of us who are pastoring find it intimidating, out of our own insecurities, to acknowledge that we are pastors serving among and responsible for other pastors?]
Though God calls some to be pastors (see Ephesians 4:11-12), He has inevitably given each of us at least some responsiblity to shepherd and spiritually guide and care-for those around us. Below are some reflections I wrote in my journal a few weeks ago while sitting out on the patio – taken from God’s reprimand of the shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34, and subsequently the hope of His intervention and restoration of this role among His people. Many of these reflections are actually a result of what isn’t happening in this Scriptural context, and in essence clarify the responsibility we are called to in shepherding well. I think it’s important to note that these reflections are not criticisms towards other pastors; instead, they serve as personal challenges for me.
- Feed others (v.2): Obviously, it is important for shepherds to feed themselves, but not to the detriment of the flock or those we’re responsible to lead. There’s a difference between self-indulging and beingfedin such a way that we’re essentially led to be empied.
- Care for the weak and strengthen them (v.4,16): Let’s be honest; the weak can often suck-us-dry, and it takes lots of energy, patience and valuable resources to strengthen them. Yet, is there a greater picture of what shepherding looks like than this? As wisdom tells us, perhaps you aren’t a shepherd if you don’t actually smell like sheep. How true.
- Bind-up the injured (v.4): See Jesus’ remarks in Luke 4:18-19, taken from Isaiah 61:1-2
- Search for the lost and bring them home (v.4,16): Again, Luke chapter 15 serves as a great reinforcement here
- Lead all to pastures of peace and rest: As seen in Psalm 23:2, the Shepherd leads his flocks to peaceful meadows and still waters. Can those we’re leading say this has been true as a result of our shepherding? Or, do they feel more like a herd of cattle being driven? That’s a tough one!
- Be cautious of producing fat sheep (v.20): As one author puts it, the teacher begets what he teaches. If we’re fat with the Word and Scriptural knowledge, yet failing to practice what we preach, we’ll undoubtedly see this reproduced in those we’re leading. Feed on the word and excersize your faith. We must find ways to model this. We’re called to produce healthy sheep.
- Leave good pasture where others can shepherd (v.18): Don’t tramble all the good ground; leave room and empower others to shepherd beside you. Where are our insecurities and our self-absorptions taking up too much of the pasture? Where are we failing to allow others to shepherd alongside us?
- Keep the waters clean (v.18-19): Don’t muddy the waters with our own sin and false teaching. (James 3:1) I have been chief among sinners here, and am certainly not worthy by man’s standards to continue as a Shepherd. Yet, through repentence and the power and Sovereignty of Jesus to heal the waters (2 Kings 2:19-21), I am constantly being restored to more responsibly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15) and to point others to Him more than drawing attention to myself.
- Lead Responsibly (v.10): A quote taken from Andy Stanley’s talk on Leadership at Catalyst several years back from the book of Daniel – which has become somewhat scriptural among many pastors and leaders today: Leadership is a stewardship. It’s temporary, and you’re accountable. If it’s not done with God’s heart, it will be taken away. I’m personally thankful here that He was gracious enough to take it away a few years ago, so that it could be rebuild and resurrected into a shepherding-leadership that (by His power and grace) will reflect the heart of the Great Shepherd.
- Why do we think there needs to be #10 if there isn’t? That’s all I got!