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TAKING CARE OF SELF BUT NOT THE FLOCK

My favourite bible verses

Ezekiel 34:1-10; John 10:1-15
30th January 2005

Christians are required in every congregation to help other Christians mature in their faith. There is great need for experienced Christians to come alongside and assist others mature. Some Christians are new to the faith and still need to grow. Other Christians have not had the opportunity to become mature Christians and need help. Other Christians have been hurt by the sufferings of life and slipped back in their assurance. Some Christians have always stayed at the kindergarten level of learning, having made a commitment to Jesus Christ they remember what they learned in Sunday School, but they have not grown since. They have not developed in experience, in teaching, in serving, in giving or in helping. They need a word of encouragement and an example of helpfulness.

It is a sign of the health of the church when there are good pastors and elders who care for the membership, who bear each others’ burdens, and share the concerns of others, teaching, witnessing, speaking, and building up the faith of others. Where there is strong leadership of pastors and elders, the church will grow with mature members. But the age-old profession of being a pastor to the flock is being eroded by some pastors today who are more concerned for their own welfare than that of the flock. Perhaps it is because they want to be seen to be “professional” and pastoral care is seen as too low key. Perhaps it has been because they have been taught pastoral care by a theological teacher who has never been an effective pastor personally. But for whatever the reason, some pastors today are not fulfilling the Biblical expectation.

The Bible has a lot to say about being a good pastor of the flock of God. Jesus put it bluntly:

John 10:1-6,12-15”I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. 11”I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14”I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Ezekiel also warned those who were leaders of the faith and of the people in his day. The exiled Jews needed encouragement. They needed to be reminded that the Lord was as faithful to his promises to bless them. Their pastors and leaders needed to be reminded to be faithful to their calling to be good pastors or shepherds of the flock.

Ezekiel 34:1-10The word of the LORD came to me: 2”Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4You 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. 5So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 7”’Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock

This judgment speech sets forth the reason for God’s judgment on Israel’s “shepherds” who had thought only of themselves and material gain. They had not cared for the “flock”. Ezekiel 34:3 Instead of feeding the flock, they fed on the flock, taking food and clothing for themselves instead of providing for the people. They had failed to provide for the needy-those weak and sick. They had not sought for sheep that had been lost. They did not care what happened to the people as long as they as pastors had all their own personal needs met. A shepherd, pastor, chaplain has a primary responsibility to care for others, even at the sacrifice of personal desires.

God promised to remove the leaders from their position so that the flock of Israel might no longer be devoured by these wolves in shepherds’ clothes. The Lord would hold each “false shepherd” accountable for his shepherding (Ezekiel 34:9-10).

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale tells of the night he was installed as pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York. His parents were present, and his mother encouraged him, that night, with words Peale never forgot. She put her hands on one of the great marble buttresses of the church and said, “This old church is so solid, so strong. You’ve got to keep it that way, Norman. Tonight it was filled with people hungry for love, searching for guidance. You’ve got to give them those things, meet those needs. If you do, your church will always be full.”

To meet the needs of a hungry people, and to grow a strong church, means that one must refine and sharpen sensitivity to human needs. Let me share some ways I believe this can be done! First, an adequate prayer and devotional life will sensitise one to the needs of people. Whatever else the pastor has going for him by way of talent, abilities, poise, he needs the constant touch of God to keep him attuned to needs and hurts. Second, the pastor must live with people. He must be with them in the everyday circumstances of life, both the good and the bad. The human touch, the caring heart, will expose the pastor to the needs of people at the grass roots level. Three, listening, observing, consciously inquiring about the human drama, those issues of life that etch their depths on the heart of a pastor.

Four, be open, warm, loving. Be an encourager. Needs will be clarified in the heart that is bathed in love, that is vulnerable to people and open to their suffering. From such attitudes will come a clarification of where people hurt and what their needs are. Five, focus on their needs in sermon preparation. Men and women still go to worship to hear some good word from God about their predicament, their pain, their problems. When there is a focus on the needs of people, then one can discover what God has to say that will uplift, help, and give hope. And such pulpit ingredients will make for a growing congregation. Good sermons grow out of pastoral care.

But we need to be conscious, too, of those things that are deterrents to the sensitising process. One, being too consumed with one’s own needs. To close the view in on self shuts out the potential and pain of others. Thus, we see them as people but not as people who need help.

Two, being too busy to listen or just being a poor listener. People with needs must have someone who will empathise with them, listen to them, and take their pain into the heart. The pastor who is too busy for this will not know the needs of his flock. Three, being austere, cold, indifferent, remote, stuffy. Such a position and attitude will keep the pastor removed from his people, and, hence, ignorant and indifferent to their needs. Four, failure to visit the people. If the pastor does not visit and live with his people, he will miss the opportunity to be shepherd, and he will forfeit the privilege of knowing them and loving them. The pastor who consciously strives to develop sensitivity to people, their needs, their pain, their hurts, will be a true pastor.

That was Paul’s approach to ministry. When Paul was at Miletus he called the pastors and elders from the churches around Ephesus to meet him when he prays for them and reminds them to be good shepherds of the flock. Spiritual ministry is a position of service, not of status. I learned from watching the Australian Open tennis that who serves best usually wins. Paul says:

BE SHEPHERDS OF THE CHURCH. Acts 20:28 “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.” It is God’s church, a church that God purchased through the blood of Jesus, His Son. The children of God are given into the care of trustworthy men and women, shepherds of the flock, not just “hired men.”

PROTECT THE FLOCK. The shepherds of the church are to protect the flock. It is the responsibility of the Elders and pastors to provide protection, support, love and care. Paul said that attacks would come from two directions. One will be from outside. Acts 20:29 “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.” Jesus said that the unworthy shepherd John 10:12 “leaves the sheep and runs away; so the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them.” The other attack will come from within. There will be liars and false teachers. Acts 20:30 “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”

SO BE ON YOUR GUARD. Difficult times were ahead for the church. Acts 20:31 “So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”

Paul’s desire was that the pastors and elders grow in maturity so that they could help others mature in their faith. He had been an example to them. He commends them to the care of God. Whatever they do is under the watchful eye of the Lord. They must learn the word of grace. They must study the message of God’s love in the Scriptures. They must seek no personal reward. Paul had not wanted silver or gold or clothing, like the priests and astrologers had made a great deal of money manipulating the lives of the people. Paul is saying: Now that you have become Elders, do your work without pay. Later on, it became a test in the church that if any man tried to receive money for his work as an elder, it was a sign that he was not a true shepherd.

Paul was quite entitled to receive payment for his service, but he is anxious to set an example. They give free service to build up other Christians. Acts 20:35 “We must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Like the Apostle Paul, I commend you to the grace of God, encourage you to study the Bible, and work seeking no personal reward. You are to build up the faith of the flock, taking care of the flock, not yourselves. As pastors and elders, rededicate your lives to helping others mature in the faith. To those still growing in the faith: receive your elders and pastors so they help you grow. To those not yet Christian, give your heart to Christ, respond to the Gospel, and mature in your Christian faith as faithful members of the flock of God, knowing Jesus, that Good Shepherd of the sheep.

REFERENCES

  • Norman Vincent Peale, Positive Imaging, New York: Fawcett Cress Books, 1982, p.18

Gordon Moyes

 

Wesley Mission, Sydney.