Posted in Faith

Where are the Shepherds?

I’ve been struggling hard with my church life for a long time and trying to put my finger on what the problem is. It’s complicated, and there are many factors at play – but one in particular has captured my attention so distinctly that I feel the need to share.

It began with a heaviness, a sadness. Every time I would watch a service from my church on TV, or go there in person. A feeling of being invisible and on the outside. Despite attending a cell group the entire time I’ve gone there, and serving as I’ve been able.

And a repeated thought, playing again and again in my mind: Sheep without a shepherd. Sheep without a shepherd.

The word “pastor” comes from the Latin for “shepherd.” Now we all know that the Lord is our perfect shepherd. We’ve heard Psalm 23, again and again: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want” (verse 1).

But have we forgotten the many verses, in both the old and new testament, in which God seeks to admonish and/or stir up the human pastors/shepherds that He has anointed over His flock? He has given them a most pivotal role.

Consider the story found in Luke 9. Jesus is attempting to withdraw from the crowds, but they follow Him. What does He do? Welcomes them. Speaks to them. Heals them.

And then: “Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here'” (verse 12).

The disciples want to send them away. These people have too many needs! They can’t fill them all.

But Jesus says, “You give them something to eat” (verse 13). And of course, what follows is that Jesus takes their meager supply of five loaves and two fish, and feeds the entire crowd of five thousand.

He could have rained down bread from Heaven, but He didn’t. He wanted them to offer whatever they had to the people, and then He multiplied it.

So yes, Jesus is our perfect shepherd. He’s the one who’s actually taking care of us. But sometimes, I think, He’s waiting for His human pastors to make the first move.

And often, they don’t.

Where are my pastors? Where are my shepherds?

They are on the screen of my TV. They’re on the stage. They’re behind an impenetrable barrier of polished, picture-perfect social media accounts.

Their pictures and names are on the church website, but not their email addresses, so I could contact one of them if I were in need. (There are staff and volunteers to field those requests. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I could make an appointment to see a pastor. In a month.)

If I see them at the grocery store, they probably won’t know who I am.

What kind of a shepherd knows nothing about his sheep?

Sitting in the church pews

In the midst of this loneliness, God led me to Ezekiel 34. I felt like it was written just for me, in this moment. It was like a balm for my soul. I was finally seen – if not by my human shepherds, then by my heavenly One. (You’ll have to forgive me for the long quote below. It was difficult for me not to type out the entire chapter, because it resonated with me so strongly!)

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds 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…So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them…I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land.”

Ezekiel 34:2-13

“I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”

Ezekiel 34:16

If you are feeling unseen, unknown, and excluded at church, I’m sorry. I know what it’s like. I try to remind myself, though, that being a pastor is a tough job. Pastors are fallible; pastors are human.

Nonetheless, God is noticing. He is holding them to account. And where they fail you, God is ready to scoop you up, and save you.

And finally, although this message is focused on the people set apart to be pastors, we sheep – the members of the flock – have something to take from it as well. What do we have, that God is asking us to give, so that He can multiply it? Just like the loaves and fish – whatever we have, it’s not too little, it’s not too unimportant. He wants us to give it away to His people, so that He can do something larger with it.

How are you feeling about church? Do you feel at home there, or do you feel like you’re on the outside?

And is there anything that you think God is asking you to give away to His people?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

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Author:

Hi, I'm Lisa, a born-and-bred-in-Manitoba mom of 2 boys. Having lived in 7 different Manitoba towns or cities, I've managed to stay warm in them all πŸ˜œβ„. I am trained as a music therapist but currently work as a fulltime stay-at-home-mom by day, and a piano teacher in the evenings. By night, well...I sleep. Usually.

10 thoughts on “Where are the Shepherds?

  1. When I read this, I get the sense of lying on an operating table. And by your openness and straightforward words, I am cut down the middle, my heart exposed. Not in a bad way. You make me think. Always.

    I feel Ezekiel’s words admonishing me. I’m not a pastor, but as a writer I think of myself as a shepherd, maybe a shepherd-in-training. And I sit here, safe and tidy behind my screen, and write what I feel God has put on my heart to write. All without any face-to-face contact, without knowing the people on the other end of my posts, without generally wanting to know them because that would disrupt my safe and tidy routine. I don’t know what the answer is or what God wants me to do about this setup. Writing is what I have to give, and I’m giving it as best I can. But, I’ve been thinking lately about starting a prayer meeting or Bible Study on my street. There’s a part of me that craves that personal connection, yet it’s also a scary thought.

    As for church, you’re right: it’s complicated. I like the quaint idea of a country church that’s so small its pastor knows each person by name and makes home visits. I used to attend a small church, thinking that I’d find more connection there; but I felt more lonely there, where many people knew me, than I do now at our very large church. I’m not sure how to explain it. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a cultural thing, rather than a small/large issue. We all mind our own business. Which should be good. But in other eras and locations and cultures, people got help through the church often because others were nosy and let the leaders/committe know about the problem! We have a solitary culture. We’ve been taught that if someone is in need, we must give them the space to find help themselves when they’re ready. Polite and private. We wait for the needy to come to us, rather than seeking them out. And I’ve joined right in. I don’t want to pry. And if I’m honest, I like my personal space and my privacy and that hardly anyone tells me what to do. What are the answers to this? Not sure.

    And there’s my two cents! LOL.

    I know God is journeying with you through this pain and loneliness in the church, and he’ll bring you out the other side. (insert heart emoji :D)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much Sara. Yes, as I wrote this it was convicting me too, as I wondered how God might ask me to be a better shepherd in whatever spheres of influence I have. And yes, size isn’t the only determinant of how connected a person feels in church. I’ve attended small churches where I simply could not break into the cliques. And in my defense of larger churches, I’ve often said that “big churches get big for a reason. They’re doing something right.” I still believe that, mostly. And ya. I’m as at fault as anyone because the independence, the privacy, is what I’ve wanted for a long time. I’ve supported that system. I’ve fed into that system. But now, for some reason, it’s not enough anymore. Maybe it was COVID, in part, that woke me up. The idea of ministering on your street is exciting, Sara. I’m always afraid of rejection when I reach out – that’s the scary part for me. But the Holy Spirit brings freedom. Love and peace to you, friend.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh, gosh. Yes, Covid has definitely isolated our society even more. You’re right. I hadn’t thought of that factor. Ugh. So, our private/personal society has become pointed even further inward and everyone is feeling even more lonely.

        Lord, only you can turn this around! And it starts with each person answering your nudge to reach out to another. But I confess I’m a fraidy cat. Help us to love! Amen.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I get the impression that your church is on TV or similar, which makes it very remote. Your idea of a local street church is a great idea., but it doesn’t nessessily need to be overly religious, it just needs to be positive and supportive. God can work in subtle ways.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Lisa. I was wide awake in the the middle of the night and when I read this, I knew I just had to respond. Every single word you have written, I have felt for YEARS. This very passage was given to me about 2 years ago to God in the middle of the service when Our lead Pastor was asked to step down. I had already felt that something was “off” about our church the moment I began attending it. I had previously been apart of two churches where the pastor’s door was always open, so having our pastors are “untouchables” behind key card locked doors made me feel deeply sick inside. Yet when I asked God why he brought me to this church, the church that everyone seemed to love – but that I struggled to even like – his answer was always so simple: “Show them what you know”
    -I know that Christ gave himself up for the sheep
    -I know that Christ seemed to serve and not to be serve
    -I know that I’m called to be selfless, a living sacrifice.
    So I started Moms Connect. We’ve grown to 16 women. We are not perfect. We often meet in chaos. But the women there would all say they are SEEN. They are KNOWN. And they are LOVED just as they are. You are welcome to join. With or without kids. The Lord knows I’ve been praying for other older women to get the Shepherds call and to join me in this ministry.
    And in the midst of it all… I’ve forgotten completely that I’m “missing out” with my pastors, because I feel so full where I am. These women know me and love me. They give amazing, godly advice when I need it. They drop everything to pray for me. Lisa, you go where God leads you, but know that you are welcome in our group.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. Even the invitation is a huge encouragement to me. I don’t yet know where God is leading me. Except for one thing – to follow after joy. It sounds like a wonderful thing you have going with those ladies. I admire your courage, selflessness, and obedience.

      Liked by 1 person

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