Wait, What Did You Say About My “Shepherd”?

Did you grow up in the church? I ask because it feels like this week’s post was written mostly to people who have grown up in church. However, if you haven’t grown up in the church, I believe you will find this interesting.

In the Old Testament, we see God’s people turn away from God. Their focus turns to what they want and what they think is important. They were still worshiping and believing. However, they started to worship and pay more attention to things they made, than to God, their Creator. Through His grace, God continued to speak to His people through prophets. The prophets continued to warn the people to stop doing what they were doing, but the people didn’t listen.

One prophet, Ezekiel, helps to clarify what was happening with God’s people. According to Ezekiel, one of the reasons the people turned away from God and focused on themselves is because they had what he calls, “bad shepherds.” Shepherds here could be kings, prophets, priests or other leaders. For our purposes, it’s fine to say, “They had bad leaders.”

This is what the Lord God says: As surely as I live, without a shepherd, my flock became prey. My flock became food for all the wild animals. My shepherds didn’t seek out my flock. They tended themselves, but they didn’t tend my flock. (Ezekiel 34:8, CEB)

Ezekiel says the shepherds, the bad shepherds, “tended themselves, but they didn’t tend my flock.” My concern is that as we read this verse now, many who have grown up in the church will hear, “The pastor is not doing enough. See, the pastor needs to do more.”

Specifically, this is often in the area of congregational care. For example, we often hear it this way, “Pastor ‘so and so’ never visited me. Pastor ‘so and so’ doesn’t visit enough.”

People within our congregations do need to be visited. Most have grown up with the expectation that this is the pastor’s job. However, as I read scripture, I do not see the role of the pastor as being the one who visits. I continue to be drawn to the words of the apostles who focus on prayer and proclaiming the word:

As for us, we will devote ourselves to prayer and the service of proclaiming the word. (Acts 6:4, CEB)

Paul says that good leaders are called to equip. Who are these leaders called to equip? They are called to equip the people in our churches.

11 He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. 12 His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ 13 until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13, CEB)

Can you imagine what this looks like lived out? Everyone lives out their calling, and as we live out our roles within God’s Kingdom, we all are able to grow and become more and more like Christ. Or, as I like to say, we are able to love more and more like Jesus loves. This means some people in our churches are actually more called to visit other people than the pastor.

In light of the New Testament’s definition of leaders and the church, let’s look again at Ezekiel. What then is a “bad shepherd?” Bad shepherds, bad pastors, can “tend themselves” by doing more than they are called to do. This often happens through congregational care. Pastors may find themselves visiting in order to not break expectations that people have of them. In this way, they are “tending themselves” by seeking to please people and not God. Pleasing people becomes the focus, instead of pleasing God. Namely, they ignore the call to be in prayer, preach the Gospel, and equip others to live out their callings. Pastors literally rob people of their opportunity to live out their God given callings.

So the next time you feel like your pastor is breaking an expectation you have for them, ask yourself, is this something I’m calling the pastor to do, or is it something God is calling them to do?

Blessings, Pastor Matt

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