Lately I have been struggling with some pointed attacks on my ability to serve the church where I am appointed. There are two pivotal arguments being made against my role as pastor.These statements and accusations might usually roll right off my back, but for some reason they are hitting harder than usual. Sometimes I can just count them in the line of “Not everyone is going to like you.” Lord knows I have done that in the past. I think mostly it just piled on to other stuff, but it got me to thinking and I need to have some help trying to determine whether I am just rationalizing, and what changes I need to make, short term and long term.
The first is a very plain point:
"We don't want to go where you are going."
The second is a bit more personal:
"You are not being a good shepherd."
I want to deal with each of these to clarify some of my thoughts, and hope that there are at least a few readers left out there to help me resolve these thoughts.
“We don’t want to go where you are going.”
I first heard this one nearly two months into my new appointment. I hadn’t even offered suggestions about how to change, at least that I knew of, let alone told of change.
I heard it next when another group asked to share our facility and I took that to the trustees, and administrative council.
I heard it again when I tried to respond to the statement that we have too many committee meetings and no-one is communicating by offering a new-old model for church committees which included a council on ministries responsible for the program of the church, and the five main committees of Ad Council, Trustees, Finance, Lay Leadership and Staff Parish Relations.
I have now heard it again as I am preaching reaching out in various ways to the local community.
The truly frustrating part of this is that until the early part of this summer I had no clear vision about where I was going, or where to lead the congregation. What’s more is that I have been after the congregation since I arrived to develop a vision that is real and tangible and possible to work towards. They have a mission statement that no-one can remember, let alone one that is a real part of every committee meeting, every worship service, every program and the overall life of the church.
Mission Statement of Del Rosa UMC
“The Del Rosa United Methodist Church is a living, growing community of faithful members of the body of Christ. We are a fellowship of active and supportive persons who minister to one another, our community, and our world. We are an inter-active, dynamic and Christ-centered congregation who are dedicated to nurturing, educating, and caring for others in Christian love and faith.”
“We don’t want to go where you are going” then becomes a personal issue, because it isn’t a matter of where the church sees itself going, or even a matter of pushing off to offer something else, but instead an issue of “you don’t have the right to lead us, and we are going to fight anything you have to offer. The easiest way for us to do that without actually making it personal is to say that ‘we don’t want to do that.’”
At this point I have to ask what kind of a leader they are looking for and where they want to go in order to mesh my hopes with theirs, or to help find a leader that will take them where they want to go, for the good of us all.
Which in turn brings me to the second point of contention:
“You are not being a good shepherd.”
I suspect that the ideals for a good shepherd are biblical in essence taken from Psalm 23 and John 10:1-21 . Though, I think the ideals have been twisted, and in some instances placed on the wrong Shepherd.-Thoughts from Psalm 23
The congregation does not expect to be in want, for spiritual fullness, great preaching, outstanding teaching, fantastic fellowship, on-time regular visitation, punctual meetings, fabulous youth groups, practical small groups and so on.
They expect to be fed all the right things, with thirst quenching scriptures to support.
Souls will be filled and all the pains and hurts of the past will be removed and soothed, with healing balm and anointing oil. The shepherd will lead in all the right paths, inciting the Lord to do the will of the congregation.
The rod and staff will be used sparingly, and gently, as the fields will be wide and the pastures plentiful.
All will be good, and loving and the house of the Lord will be a place of rest and relaxation, where the doors are kept safe from intruders by the shepherd, and no-one will ever sin or make a mistake, especially the shepherd. The shepherd will be the doorkeeper, opening and closing the church at our request, keeping the field safe as well, so that we will not encounter the wolf or the snake. Rocks will not fall on our heads, and holes will be covered over in the field to protect our legs.
-Thoughts from John 10
Enters the flock through the front gate by invitation from the watchman. The sheep hear, know and follow the voice of the Shepherd. Brings out all the people, and is the only one the people will fully follow. Is the protector of the sheep, the one who allows only the sheep the enter, and when the sheep exit by the same manner only the fullness of the pasture will be before them.
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. This means that all that matters to the shepherd will be put aside for the will of the sheep (at least as I have noted it in my context[s]), and will contend with the wolves who come to pick off the sheep. (one might interpret that to mean that the shepherd will fight the devil and the demons of the sheep who take life, rather than give it). The shepherd knows the sheep, and because the shepherd knows the sheep on such an intimate level the sheep in turn know the shepherd. Moreover, the shepherd knows the owner of the sheep, and the owner of the sheep knows the shepherd in the same way that the sheep know the shepherd and the shepherd the sheep.
But, when the life is given for the sheep, it is at the will of the shepherd not the will of the wolf, the thieves who come or at the will of the sheep themselves. And this is the command of the Father/Sheepowner.
Now the first problem I have with trying to turn me into this kind of shepherd is that the scriptures seem pretty clear that the only chance I have at any authority is if I am in Christ and the people are in Christ, and we are following the “Real” Shepherd. I am not the shepherd, I am a hired hand who does run at the sight of the wolves, who can’t bear the thought of thieves, and relies first and foremost on the Good Shepherd to protect me from the wrath of the Owner/Father on the grace of the Good Shepherd to protect me and the sheep.
The second challenge I have is that I understand the role of the shepherd as broader than the basic roles the scriptures lay out. I see the role of shepherd as one who must take the sheep through the high roads, near the cliffs, and the mountains to the various pasture lands (I consider this as taking the congregation through the tough places to change for the fullness of the flock in greener pastures). This means that sometimes we are going to have to leave the formerly “safe spaces”. Additionally we are going to have to become a tighter group to fit through the passes. The shepherd first has to consult with other shepherds to find out the conditions that are in the land – the thieves at large; the dangerous beasts: wolves, bears, lions; the dry wells and the active; the good lands for grazing; the sheep that will bring new growth lines and better stock to the whole flock, not just the ones that are bred from among the flock. The shepherd also needs to take time to be with friends, eat, sleep, care for the family and can’t watch all the sheep at the same time. It is enough to gather the sheep in from time to time to care for the wounds (not all the internal wounds are obvious), count the flock, and create new opportunities for the sheep. There will be times when a new pen needs to be created, and the field addressed.
These are some considerable weights to place on the shepherd. The primary complaint before me is that I am not tending to the wounds of the sheep. And yet I feel like the watchman who was already at the flock waiting for the Good Shepherd, where the sheep run from me, waiting for Christ to come.
So then I have to ask how I can be Christ to the people.
-How much visitation with the sheep (and all the sheep)?
-How to tend for the wounds which they pull away from inspection, let alone the internal wounds, and the previous training of other shepherds?
-How many meetings with the sheep? Or is it a matter of meeting with the watchmen selected to oversight of the sheep in their committee?
-How much time in the community finding out the conditions (in the local area, and the larger area of the Church)?
-How much time getting to know the Owner? And the Good Shepherd?
-Who do I appoint as my watchmen, and what is their role?
-What time do I spend searching out new sheep to introduce to the flock, and strengthen the breed?
-How hard do I use the rod, and how hard do I pull on the staff to keep the sheep on the trail?
-When I take on the wolves and thieves who come against the sheep, how much do they need to know – and further, how much of their own bleating is responsible for the attack, so how do I quiet the flock?
-How many other flocks, varieties of animals can graze in and amongst the flock without serious repercussions?
-What time is my own?
-How do I cull out those that are not sheep?
-What if the sheep don’t want a shepherd?