To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:1-3)
Pastor Clay was broken, bruised, and beaten down by the circumstances of church life and the decisions made by his denomination’s leaders. Correction, make that former pastor Clay, as the pioneer church that Clay had been pastoring for ten years was shut down by the denomination for “lack of fruitfulness.” Never mind that Clay had been bi-vocational the whole time, completely independent from denominational funds, and that many had come to Christ through his ministry but had transitioned to one of the larger churches in town that had better ministries for the children or youth or whatever.
“I did my best, Lord. Help me to find my way into being a part of this new church...” He continued praying silently as he waited for the meeting for new members to begin at the church his family had started attending. It was a large church with excellent ministries for all kinds of people and needs; hopefully his wife and kids would find the right groups to join so they could grow in Christ and become everything God wanted them to be. As for himself, Clay didn’t have much hope. He had given pastoring his best shot and had failed. His wife was as tired and angry as he was, and his kids were glad they weren’t pastor’s kids anymore.
As the meeting dragged on with one of the associate pastors going over familiar ground, Clay began to get drowsy and began to daydream and wonder what they were going to serve for lunch. He barely noticed when the man of the hour, the senior pastor himself, made his big entrance into the room and began to be overly friendly and take questions from his adoring audience. One question in particular, though, jolted Clay to attention.
“Pastor, all these home groups and specialized ministries seem really good. But what if someone is so hurting or so shy that they can’t or won’t take the initiative to join a group? What if they don’t fit in or become discouraged with the group that they join?”
“Well,” the pastor answered, “We do our best to have a ministry program or small group for every need and every type of person. However, no one is going to hold your hand and lead you into this group or that ministry. We leave it up to each individual person to know what they need and get into the program that will meet their needs. Each person has complete freedom to join or not join a group and no one will bother you if you don’t join a group or choose to leave a group.”
Clay’s hand shot up as he thought about Scriptures like 1 Peter 5 and Ezekiel 34. “So how does the church meet the mandate for pastoral ministry, going after the lost, taking care of the sick and wounded, helping those who are unable to help themselves?”
“We have ministry team leaders and small group leaders who do that.” the pastor answered. “And we refer people to a directory of local Christian counselors for those that need more help. We simply don’t have the resources to watch over everyone and provide pastoral care and counseling for the thousands of people that come here each Sunday morning.”
Clay couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The church had grown so large and well-known that the leaders thought that they were no longer responsible to watch over the flock? That the sick, the shy, the emotionally wounded, the dysfunctional people who took up a lot of a pastor’s time were not worth the effort, and only those who were healthy enough and mobile enough to join a ministry team or small group were worth pursuing? And was that a trace of arrogance that he heard in the pastor’s voice as he boasted that his church was too large to take care of everybody that came? And, when it got right down to it, was the bottom line “the bottom line” in this pastor’s approach to church and ministry?
"he realized that whether he had a position or not, he was called to be a shepherd and to watch over the flock of God."
Clay walked away more befuddled and confused than ever. Should he join the church and try to provide the pastoral care that was so badly needed? Or should he walk away and pray about trying again, about starting another church that would provide the pastoral care that is so badly needed in the fractured and individualistic culture of 21st century America?
In the end, Clay decided that the church belongs to the Lord, and he would talk to Him about it. “Lord, help that pastor and all the pastors out there, especially those who pastor thousands of people, to understand their responsibilities. Let them be under-shepherds of the Good Shepherd and follow the example of Jesus, seeking out the lost, healing the sick, caring for the poor, and comforting the brokenhearted. Help them to be good shepherds as Peter describes in 1 Peter 5, being willing to put the needs of the flock before their own.
“And Lord, please, keep them from falling under the judgment outlined in Ezekiel 34. (Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.)
“Lord,” Clay continued to pray, “You were against those shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel’s day, and you will be against us pastors of today if we fail to care for your people. Help us all, and especially help the pastors and leaders at my new church, to understand the importance of going after the lost, caring for the wounded, praying for the sick, and comforting the brokenhearted.”
Former pastor Clay – make that Pastor Clay – continued to pray, even though he still wasn’t sure if he should stay in the large church or not, because he realized that whether he had a position or not, he was called to be a shepherd and to watch over the flock of God.
Let’s Pray Together: Lord, forgive us – forgive me – when we haven’t gone after the lost or called upon the sick or encouraged the broken-hearted. Forgive us for not finding the time to try and bring a measure of wholeness to the wounded and dysfunctional. Show me my place in Your plan to shepherd Your people, and help the pastors and church leaders in my local church to be good shepherds just as You are. I pray for my pastors and leaders, and for those who need to be shepherded, as You bring them to my mind. I pray for...(continue to pray as you feel led…)