Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
Pastoring has its great joyful moments and its moments of frustration. The Lord built the image of the work of leading His people around the simple life of a sheep-tender, a shepherd – which is what the English word “pastor” really means. 1 Peter 5:4 makes it clear that Christ is the Chief Shepherd and we are only the under shepherds, so His purposes must prevail, as so should also His methods of handling His people. We feed His flock, not our own.
With this rich imagery used throughout the Bible, the idea of what it takes to lead the people of God takes its real shape. We must lead them to pasture, to prepare a table of spiritual blessing for them in the presence of enemies – this represents the teaching ministry of the pastor. We must help them understand the paths of righteousness that He is leading us to take for His name’s sake – the ministry of leading. We must help them by mending their wounds, anointing their heads with the oil of healing and blessing – the ministry of care. We must take them to the Lord in prayer, equip them for service, build them up in their faith, encourage them in their journey, and counsel them through their troubles.
We must lead them beside the still waters for their spiritual refreshment, teaching of the Spirit’s life that courses through our thoughts and directs our actions. We must wait patiently and tenderly for the ones with young and lead them as gently as the Savior does. We must lead the more teachable and dedicated ones to the higher truths, as we move toward the sheep pen of God’s heaven, and still be patient with the spiritual stragglers of the flock, who never seem to be able to keep pace with the others.
For many reasons I am in awe of Christ, but one of the greatest traits of His character that astounds me is His utter patience with the spiritual stragglers of His flock, the sheep that are prone to wander off. Shepherds learn which of their sheep are prone to wander away – and when the flock was placed in the pen at night and one was missing, a shepherd who knew his flock could probably guess which one it was and where he had wandered off to. With utter patience he would safely secure the others and go back into the wilderness to find the lost one, the constant straggler who would never learn how to come in with the rest.
Every church has people among its family of faith that are like these sheep. They are irregular in their attendance, inconsistent in their devotional life, conflicted in their relationships, and troubled in their hearts. They tend to blame their problems on their past, their circumstances, and others around them. Ironically some of them are fairly demanding and sometimes even rebellious – the straggler of the flock calls to the other sheep to go in a different direction than the shepherd is leading. Or, their complaint is that the shepherd is leading in the wrong direction, even though their record shows that they have not followed any spiritual leadership.
There are moments in church life when some people are not ready – or so they feel – for the next step of faith that God is leading them to take. They need more time to consider if this is the will of God, and to count the cost of obedience. Many of these people will come along later – they just had a bit more of a spiritual struggle about the matter. I myself have experienced this in my own life – a slowness to accept a new direction. The older we get, the more changes there are in the way we do church and I have struggled to accept new things – the eternal truths of God, of salvation and worship and evangelism, etc, never change, but the styles change, what music to sing, what to wear, how to organize, etc.
But some of these slower sheep will sometimes form a bloc of opposition, and they will pick a leader, or the leader will pick them, and they will choose immaterial issues, either unimportant matters that they think are important or a distortion of important matters because they did not like the way the leadership phrased them or the order they put them in, and they will then attack the leader of the flock viciously and ruthlessly. The issue is almost always a power struggle and they will use ruthless means to get their way.
I have been around long enough to see such things happen in other churches and to experience a taste of it in one place of ministry – it was just a taste but it was a very unpleasant taste. But statistically this is happening more and more often. As I read and study and speak with my pastor friends, I cannot help but note that this trend is on the rise. It is becoming harder and harder to pastor churches.
Reasonable Christians who seek to follow the Lord will sometimes find themselves at odds with the leadership and direction of their church, and these people will normally peacefully remain in the church and be as supportive as they can be, or they will leave quietly and bless their brothers and sisters as they go. But others will seek to hurt and destroy, they will spread lies, magnify rumors, and seek to tear others down. Paul only claimed authority to build up, not to tear down (2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10).
The thing we must all do, whether pastors or not, is to make the will of Christ the central concern of our hearts, to bring each thought into agreement with Him. To Peter he asked, “Do you love me?” and out of that question rose the other commands to feed His sheep and to take care of His little lambs. If our love for Christ will grow in our hearts, then we will find that we will love who He loves – at least the germ will be there and it will be growing.
The end of pastoring it to grow people in their knowledge of God, their intimacy with Christ, and their love for the things He loves – and all of this should result in a more obedient people. Paul described this as the living character of the living Christ being formed within the people themselves (Gal. 4:19). No other goal will suffice other than this.