“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep…~Jesus
A man tells me of a pornography addiction that has escalated into group sex with strangers and random sexual encounters with men. I listen and pray with him for weeks and months give the Biblical wisdom about such things.
A woman has an affair with a co-worker and her husband finds out. My wife and I spend hours, days, and weeks meeting with them. I get calls and texts in the middle of the night for months from one or both of them because their hearts are on fire with pain and betrayal. We pray, listen, give counsel from the Bible. We declare to them both that we will walk with them all the way to a marriage of restoration. They stay married.
A man comes to faith in Jesus. I baptize him and spend hours teaching him the basics of the Christian life. We pray together, we talk, and we walk together for months and then years. He grows and grows in his understanding of the faith.
Another family joins the fellowship and begins to serve in the church. I meet with the man for coffee hours after hours and yet he and his wife begin to drift apart and he begins to date a married woman so I ask him to take some time off serving until he settles his marital status. I pray with him and show him the scriptures clear teaching about such things.
A recovering alcoholic and I meet for coffee and great conversations about life, rock n roll, and Jesus.
A woman and her daughter begin coming to our Church and breathe such a sigh of relief at finding a safe place from which they can recover from a toxic church relationship. They are enfolded deeper and deeper into the Church and begin to serve. The younger woman is unable to have children with her husband who is hostile to the Church. So, we pray and pray and pray for the couple to conceive and give birth to a healthy baby. We pray for the husband to begin to attend Church. He begins coming and is faithful to come even when his wife is too ill with morning sickness. He begins to serve in the Church. A healthy baby is born to this lovely family.
A single mother and her daughter attend and serve. I go to her place of employment with the horrible news that her father has suddenly died. I carry her in my arms with another member to her car and drive her home. My wife and I pray with her and love her; care for her.
A man and his wife have been in our home to share a meal tells his wife I am a fake.
And now I must stop typing for the tears in my eyes. Those sheep have all left the fold. They have left my church. Some attend other Churches; prettier and sexier Churches. Others just don’t go to church anymore. They all left in the span of 18 months in a previous ministry.
Forbes released a list a couple of years ago of the toughest leadership roles – and a church pastor ranks among them. More than 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month.
This staggering number includes some of the brightest, most inspiring pastors in the country. Over the years of having about as many people leave my ministry sphere as stay, I thought I’d share a thing or two, because I’ve seen a thing or two.
- Carry the sheep in your heart, but hold them loosely.
If you don’t carry them in your heart, your compassion will be stiff and stultified—helping no one. If you hold them too tightly your fingers will hurt when they pry them open to go their way. Besides, they are not your sheep anyway.
- Lead the sheep firmly, but never let them accuse you of being merciless.
A shepherd never ever drives his or her sheep. It’s a cliché, but none-the-less true: Folks don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. If you are going to make a mistake in leadership, make it on the side of mercy and grace. After all, that’s what your Shepherd has done for you.
- Your sheep need a pastor, but you need one more than they do.
A pastor without a pastor is a man or a woman who is trying to be a Messiah. Find someone you can trust that will shepherd your heart with equal parts grace and truth. When you find that safe person, submit the care of your soul to them. Wasn’t it Ben Franklin who said, “He who cannot obey, ought not command”?
- Feed the sheep in your fold, but nourish your interior life more.
When (not if) they leave you will want to be strong enough to complete your calling and love those that remain in ways that make them look more and more like Jesus. Beyond that, when you stand before the Lord one day, He’s not going to ask you to show Him your sheep. He’ll ask to see your soul. Make sure you have one to show Him.
The calling of a pastor is a heavy one, but we are not without resources. We have a Good Shepherd that holds us as we hold others. Now, excuse me I hear the bleating of a hurting soul and I must go.
For I am a pastor.
Thanks Joe, for being a pastor.
This is wisdom found through great love and great suffering. Thank you for showing the path.
Thank you for reminding me. It’s easy to doubt you’re in the right place, but then when so many of your people need the Word of God it’s clarifying to see that God has me in the right place for this time, since I want to show them and remind them and help them see what I see in the Word.
Amen, brother. Amen.