Saturday, 26 December 2015

Church: Bad Shepherds

As we head toward the close of yet another year I have been thinking and praying over the issues in the churches I am engaged in at home and a little further afield. To do that I often take up a 'black box' method of considering them so that I might work to understand what Church (universal) and church (the local entity) are doing what they, and I, are doing. To do this I try to stop, step back and ask the question:

Is there a difference between what we have and what is required?

This immediately causes panic in some as the word 'required' brings the problem of defining what that word means; for it always seems to differ from person to person and congregation to congregation.

Speaking to some of my clergy colleagues, it is obvious that many of them struggle with the word 'sin'., especially when the issue of correcting it in those around us arises. When I ask people how their prayer life is, I am berated by some colleagues for being too direct and for introducing something that might cause embarrassment and disaffection with the whole Christian thing. To quote a bright young cleric recently, "If you challenge people like that they won't stay in your church for long. You have to embrace them and look past what you see as not living as you think is required to see that they need to be made welcome and accepted not abused." I have to say that being labelled an abuser because I ask people how they are living out their life as a Christian is not abuse but the whole point of the pastoral role managed to wind me up - but the other person left the conversation unharmed (see I am growing up Lord!).

The problem is that I believe I am called to welcome and accept people  for who they are (hopefully I do) BUT I am also called to talk to people about how they are living and growing in their faith.  To not do so is to be a bad shepherd of the flock God has entrusted to me - have a read of Ezekiel 34 and see if you recognise the description of what a bad shepherd does - here's a taster from that book:

'The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.'

Now, I was a bit niggled at being told that I mustn't challenge people over their lifestyles or their prayer life or Bible reading and the like, for I have to say that what I heard was a soft-touch, hands off, 'I just want to be their friend' approach to Church; and this is wrong! It is like a parent who wants to be their kid's friend rather than their parent. The kids are allowed to do whatever it is that makes the parents popular with the result that they are a blessed pain in the proverbials. I'm sure you know weak and indulgent parents and the nightmare that their kids are.

Those of us who are called to be shepherds of the flock that is church are called to protect, to provide for and to lead. These are fixed 'essential' roles, there is no way we can excuse ourselves from them. We are called to stand between them and things that might bring them harm (physically, morally, spiritually, mentally and emotionally) - and this means that we have no choice but to act when we perceive there is a clear and present danger.  But this is not always popular - as I have found to my cost. but as we find in 2 Peter 2: tells us, “There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies.”  and that is what I am seeing in some around me. I find so many preaching a weakened Gospel as they seek popularity over rectitude.

I pray for those under my charge and/or known by me. This isn't part of a 'look how good I am' but a look at the things I 'must' do as part of my job activity - I do enjoy doing it, but even if I didn't, that would be tough as it's part of the role.

To provide for the sheep we are called to read and master the word of God so that we can feel the flock from it. The problem is that many of us are feeding our sheep dried up and reheated stuff or stuff that has little nutritional value. After all, once we've got past the conversations regarding feeding the congregation milk because there are spiritual babies present the issue of feeding them meat is often forgotten and set aside as we provide great worship (meaning singing the latest stuff and being lost in the moment) - which, when the wolf comes a knocking ain't gonna be of much help!

We do not come with persuasive words. We do not come with expensive suits and TV shows, books and merchandise. No, we come but preaching Christ - foe we, like the Apostle Paul have nothing but Him, and Him crucified ... and this is a hard message which calls us to pout off the former things and live as we should (which means according to the Bible).

In Acts 20, we find Paul telling those before him,
“I did not shrink form declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in Christ.”

This is what we, as shepherds are called to do. It might not be popular, but it right if we are to discharge our duties as shepherds properly.

Those in leadership are called to lead! Now, it doesn't get any simpler than that, does it?

The Western model of the shepherd is a bloke who walks behind the sheep and kicks them up the rear end to keep them moving - this is, I suspect, what the bright young things who complain about being directive and having closed questions are revolting against.

The Eastern model of the shepherd if someone the sheep follow because they trust the person for lead them into green pastures and to protect them from those things that would harm or devour them. The follow the shepherd because they are the source of food, protection and care.

This is what a shepherd truly is, that way I prefer to think of myself as a 'Pastor' as that is what I seek to be for those under my charge. And this means that I do lead them and act to protect them from the wolves in sheep clothing we encounter from time to time.

So, as I start to reflect upon the year gone and the highs and lows - I wonder what sort of a shepherd I have been - and what I need to do to make me a better one in the year ahead?


Rev N said...

A really good reflection on the mindset of many of the clergy I too encounter and struggle with. At least this proves I'm not going mad I guess.


ps. What's a black box?

Jude said...

I personally have huge respect for the pastor who asks the deeper and more revealing questions that allow me to really share what is going on spiritually for me. You did that for me one particular time, Vic, and it made a huge and positive difference in my life! Of course it can be a painful process, but done in the context of real palpable Godly love, it is an amazingly enriching experience. The masks come off and what is real can be explored without hindrance. A pastor who simply shakes hands, says "G'day" and discusses the weather, etc, then moves on does nothing towards the spiritual growth of his flock. What value is such shallowness? Someone who really cares, and cares deeply, goes way beyond that in coming alongside and helping to heal the wounds of another.

JonG said...

I suspect that your colleague would agree with the nominal sentiments of Steve Turner's "Christmas is really for the children":

and particularly the end:

"...they’d do better to
wait for a re-run of
Christmas without asking
too many questions about
what Jesus did when he grew up
or whether there’s any connection."

If, as some seem to think, sin is so unimportant, then what on earth was the point of Calvary?