Be a good sheep
It can be lonely out front. That's one of the reasons so many pastors and spiritual leaders experience a sense of isolation as they lead. On September 7, 2013, Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay Resources wrote an insightful blog titled The Lonely Pastor: Nine Observations. It's doesn't quote the latest studies or provide columns of statistics but identifies three lists related to lonely pastors---causes, dangers, and solutions, respectively. You can read it in three minutes right here. It's good analysis of a trend line that is moving steadily upward.
Underneath the disappointing numbers is something more basic. Our modern ex-urban world has disconnected from the biblical images of shepherds and sheep. A young pastor told me a few months ago that he won't talk about those ancient farm images in his preaching and teaching ministry because they don't resonate with young moderns today. Of course I told him this kind of instruction is part of his job as the shepherd, to lead them and teach them why those Bible concepts were so important to our understanding of faith. Even more, modeling the roles of biblical shepherd is essential in guiding them to their role as sheep in the flock. He changed the subject.
So October is Pastor Appreciation Month and October 11, 2015, has been designated as Pastor Appreciation Day. It's a great opportunity for the flock to express their gratitude and care for their shepherd. Reflecting on it this morning in my study I couldn't help but notice the walls and shelves covered with the evidences of four flocks generous love for us. They are precious treasures of our times with them, thirty two years with the greatest people on earth. There are many more than are displayed right now. Since retirement I've been trying to take stock of every one and establish some kind of rotation system as reminders of the way they thanked us for our service. There are artists renditions of those churches, originally designed cross-stitch depictions of church logos, personal artifacts of special occasions, Citadel (my college alma mater) bulldogs of every size and shape, chalices, rocks, mementos representing unique times of ministry, a hand-made box of notes presented to us at retirement, and so many more, including souvenirs from a trip to Israel for Harriet and I on the commemoration of our tenth anniversary in one church.
Of all the appreciation gifts, however, one stands out. It is a note from the oldest member of one of the flocks we were priviledged to serve. On the outside of the note was the inscription, "I pray to be a good sheep." Inside was a personal note focused on three phrases from the Good Shepherd discourse in John 10. With pastoral precision she indicated three points to her prayer---
"The sheep hear his voice... (John 10:3)
"...the sheep follow him..." (John 10:4)
"...the sheep did not listen to him..." (John 10:8), meaning the thief
She prayed for the grace to be that kind of sheep.
Of course, that sweet note created an urgency in me to be the kind of shepherd depicted in that passage as well as the other shepherd references in Scripture. And, of all the pastor appreciation gifts in my office, and stored for the rotation, this note certainly is among the most cherished.
So, Pastor Appreciation Month, and Pastor Appreciation Day are on the calendar in most congregations. Thankfully they've been expanded by many to acknowledge appreciation to all clergy, church staff members, and others in spiritual leadership roles. Church members can and will express thanks to them in many ways. Cards will be purchased, gifts bought or crafted, words of encouragement and affirmation written, and special remembrances created, all in a genuine spirit of loving care.
Just so, it's a good time for reminders of the covenant into we are drawn, and the special relationships that exist in the biblical model. All recognition, if offered from a sincere heart will communicate and embrace the one who leads. But, praying to be a good sheep may make it less lonely for the shepherd.
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you
in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because
of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, ESV