Last year I read a blog by one of our younger colleagues about the need for an updated pastoral model for times like these. His reasoning was that the shepherd model of Scripture doesn't resonate with the urban and suburban sophisticates we're trying to reach at church these days. He's right! Few of us have flocks grazing in our green pastures or finding rest beside the still waters. The agrarian, rural motif does at times get lost in the traffic of life in the big city. Still, many of the precious symbols of Scripture are no longer actualized in daily life. But, they still provide useful applications of biblical truth. I mean, crucifixion doesn't happen in the civilized world. But, the cross is sill the power symbol of our faith.
So, at least for me, the shepherd remains the prime image of the pastoral office. For thirty five years Peter's instruction about how to fulfill this important responsibility has been my personal pastoral guide. He wrote,
"...shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under
compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but
eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the
1 Peter 2:3, ESV
The glance back over those thirty-five years is an interesting reminder that we have this treasure in jars of clay (see 2 Corinthians 4:7, ESV). Humans like me aspire to greatness but the feet of clay keep us grounded to planet earth. There are things I would do over in the pastoral office if I could go back there. Since I can't, I thought I'd share them with you. Thanks for reading. Now, pass them on...
1. Pray more. Over and over I'm discovering that I was more or less a prayer slacker in my ministry. There's really no way to read the New Testament without
understanding the church's command to pray for one another. Like most of us,
I prayed through a prayer list daily, prayed often with those experiencing the hard
moments of life, lead congregational prayers every Sunday, and prayed with every
small group I attended. But, if I could do over my prayer experiences for
thirty-five years, it would be to pray more. More often. More specifically. More
focused. More in every way.
2. Understand the broader scope of pastoral shepherding. For most of my
thirty-five years pastoral ministry was the pastoral care of our congregation. It
was visiting and praying for the sick, standing along side of the bereaved, caring
for the shut-ins and immobile, and providing counsel for those experiencing the
difficult challenges of life. If I could start that whole process again, I would
perform in-depth study of the shepherd's role and understand the broader
context of leading, protecting, feeding, guiding, and directing them. My physical
care of them would be seconded to my spiritual care for them. It's a fine
distinction, but a valid one.
3. Spread the pastoral care ministry around. Who can totally extract self from
any of the pastoral functions? Certainly not me. Often I viewed the pastoral
leadership of the church as the sole proprietorship of the lead pastor. I was
often jealous and resentful of those who wanted to step into my shoes. It was
only when we recognized the pastoral function of every staff member that I could
celebrate the pastoral ministry entrusted to everyone of us, and to our deacon
servants as well. It was a liberating moment, for the church, and for me. It raised
our church staff too, in my appreciation for them, in their roles in the church,
and the congregations acknowledgement of their pastoral leadership. I came to
this place in the last five to seven years of ministry. Afforded a do over, it would
happen much earlier.
4. Display total transparency with the church family. Only when our son Brian
was murdered July 18, 2011, did Harriet and I learn to be totally transparent with
our church family. His death opened our hearts to them in ways we had never
experienced or anticipated. We had never been distant from them. As a high
relator I was always willing for them to know me at a deeper level. But, that
tragedy placed us on a different platform and gave us an unusual opportunity to
be real with them. Yes, there are roles to be played and expectations to be met.
Authenticity, however, communicates faith more effectively than any role-playing
or pretense. When we opened our heart in my diagnosis of stage four cancer and
in the death of our son, the pastoral role shifted. If I could do it over, I would be
more open from day one.
5. Understand the depths of pastoral love. There's something weird in me that
drew me to churches who were hurting. Two of them were adjusting from
long-term pastorates of leaders they truly and deeply loved. One had experienced
a church split that reduced their numbers and caused deep division in the body.
In each I felt led and honored to express my love for them openly and often.
Watching them lift after being told "I love you" was a blessing I can hardly define.
Through the years, however, the practice subsided. If I could do anything over, I
would never neglect to demonstrate my love to them, in actions and in words. We
can never tell them enough.
The dynamics of church life are changing. The pastoral role is under re-consideration too, with multi-site campuses, teaching teams, leadership assignments, and even those called to fulfill the pastoral needs of the local congregation. In The Secular City author Harvey Cox predicted that mobility and anonymity define us. So, the pastoral role, though changing, is still crucial in a world that is moving fast and where people are alone.
"Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election,
for if you practice these qualities you will never fail."
2 Peter 1:10, ESV
It's a promise to God's chosen leaders, even in changing times.