There is an array of people who provide some kind of care for us at different times. A few weeks ago, I sought out a lawyer to draw up important documents for me: a will, a power of attorney, and a health care directive. Her expertise was much appreciated! I have always been grateful for those who provide medical care, and even more so, now that I am older! One of the days that I dread each year is that trip to the dentist! My dread is overcome by the sober realization that without good dental care, I’ll lose my teeth. You have a doctor, lawyer, dentist, and . . . now, let me ask you, do you have a pastor?
Yesterday I was invited to a ceremony that celebrated the new calling of a man who will serve a community, in a role every bit as important as those mentioned previously. He was being installed (what a term, eh?) as the 35th pastor of a church that is 250 years old! In that hour, I, who have invested my entire life in pastoral work, reflected on the work that I do and those I serve. Paul tells us that God, the Spirit, “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:11-12, NIV) Pastor – the word means ‘shepherd.’ Interestingly God did not call the leader of the local church, president or chief or lord or even father. He says that His people will be led by shepherds.
Shepherds live with their sheep, day and night. It is a calling, not a career. They provide protection from predators, tender care for the hurt and wounded until they are healed and able to rejoin the flock, and make sure of the supply of pasture and water. Shepherds live for their sheep! The model for a pastor is none other than the Shepherd, Jesus. He says, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.” (John 10:11-13, The Message)
The preacher at the installation service yesterday took his text from Ezekiel 34. The Lord warns the leader shepherds of His people about abusing their sheep. It is a sobering passage for those who serve. “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.” (Ezekiel 34:3-5, NIV) Peter expands on that and tells those who lead Christ’s church this; “Care for the flock of God entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your good example. And when the head Shepherd comes, your reward will be a never-ending share in his glory and honor.” (1 Peter 5:2-4, NLT)
Ezekiel also speaks to the sheep. He tells them that a pastor must be accepted, allowed to lead. When unruly sheep ignore the shepherd, the damage to the whole flock is dire. He warns a flock about becoming ‘fat,’ and self-seeking, refusing to allow those in need to find the care they need. “Is it not enough for you to keep the best of the pastures for yourselves? Must you also trample down the rest? Is it not enough for you to take the best water for yourselves? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? All that is left for my flock to eat is what you have trampled down. All they have to drink is water that you have fouled. “Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will surely judge between the fat sheep and the scrawny sheep. For you fat sheep push and butt and crowd my sick and hungry flock until they are scattered to distant lands.” (Ezekiel 34:18-21, NLT)
I rejoice in the privilege of being a shepherd under the care of the Great Shepherd. I feel the weight of the care of His flock and pray, with passion, to serve tenderly, lovingly, and for the good of the flock. Are you a part of the flock? Are you under the care of both the Great Shepherd and a shepherd who loves and cares for you? The Spirit urges the church (the flock of God) to “be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?” (Hebrews 13:17, The Message)
Sheep and shepherd – let’s work to bring honor and glory to God – “God’s people (who are doing) works of service, (led well so that) the body of Christ may be built up.”
“A psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk through the dark valley of death,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.
You welcome me as a guest, anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23, NLT)