1 Peter 5:1-5 – Humble Service

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”(NIV)

Today’s New Testament lesson addresses two groups of people: Leaders and followers, the older and the younger, shepherds and sheep. Both have their distinct roles and places, yet both are to share together in the virtue of humility. Whether pastor or parishioner, mentor or mentee, humble service is to characterize all.

I spent a good chunk of my ministerial life working with college students and twenty-somethings. One of the reasons I like being around young adults is that they have a very well attuned barometer to hogwash coming from older folks. Unlike children and more mature adults, this group of people live in a nexus between an emerging awareness of the world without having yet been crusted over with bitterness or disillusionment. They can spot a disingenuous person across the room like an eagle eyes the difference between a fish and a rock at five-thousand feet in the air.

All of us have likely had the experience of not being able to explain why, but a certain interaction with a person just seems off – it smacks of being a bit too contrived and manipulative. The other person might talk a good line, yet your instincts tell you different. So, for example, if a church pastor or leader seems to be just going through the motions as if the work is a necessary evil, then there might be something behind it. It is always a good idea to stop and listen to your gut speak.

Difficult for many people is that life is not so much about learning a certain skill set, as if we were in a trade school. The skills approach relies upon learning to say certain things, do certain things, and press certain buttons in others, and then get a solid expected outcome. That kind of approach is where the finely attuned baloney meter goes off in others. They sense that this person talking to them is not bringing anything of themselves to the discussion; they’re just talking without listening; they just go on without a sense of dialogue in which they learn from you or reveal anything of themselves to you.

I genuinely believe humility is the cornerstone of all virtues and the foundation to effective personal interactions and group dynamics. Without humility, there is no sense of the majesty and dignity of the other person – there is only competition and a twisted hierarchy of those with power and those without. If humility is absent, life is a trade school in learning to get what I want on the backs of others.

However, with humility, who we are as people matters. I bring my feelings, my thoughts, my beliefs, my experiences, and my questions into the conversation or situation and seek to, in turn, discover what you think and feel. Then, together, we come to a third way of seeing that honors our collective sharing and consulting of one another with fresh collaboration which blesses the world. This is less a skill set, and more of just being a good human being.

Humility is a posture, not a skill to leverage for what we want. A humble disposition pursues learning, growth, and development. It sits with uncertainty and mystery so that genuine relationship has a real go at happening. Humility sits on the floor at Jesus’ feet and discovers something about self, God, and the interaction between each.

The humble emptying of oneself is necessary in awakening to a new awareness of God’s presence. It may not mean that shepherds and leaders have clear assurances and certain plans, yet it will surely involve living in the awkward in-between of assurance and uncertainty, being loved but not knowing where that love will take you, and following Jesus without a pre-negotiated plan. 

No one can malarkey their way through the Christian life; everyone needs the posture of humility. Jesus will be our Teacher, yet we will need to bring ourselves to the mix because Christianity is not dispassionately taking notes and then forensically regurgitating it all on an exam. Instead, Christianity is a dynamic spiritual encounter between God and self through the person of Jesus. It begins with humility. And the rewards of such living are permanent and eternal.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd of the sheep, give us the humility which realizes its ignorance, admits its mistakes, recognizes its need, welcomes advice, and accepts rebuke. Help us always to praise rather than to criticize, to sympathize rather than to discourage, to build rather than to destroy, and to think of people at their best rather than at their worst. This we ask for your name’s sake. Amen.

Church Outlaws

            My wife’s family loves Westerns.  In fact, the first time I went to Mary’s house the first thing I noticed was the rather large print of John Wayne above the TV.  So, as you can imagine, I’ve watched my share of gun-slinging cinema.  Probably the classic Western is one in which the band of outlaws comes into town every so often and shoots it up, drinking and carousing and having their way.  The town sheriff might have the authority as the law, but he can’t face the outlaws by himself.  In typical Western movie build-up, the final shoot-out of the film has the town folk convinced to quit hiding in their homes and businesses.  The outlaws come into town thinking they will have their way again, but this time the people are ready with rifles on their roof tops, and a plan to bring them down to size.  It works, and the town once again restores law and order, having found their courage to not only survive in the Old West, but to thrive.
            Christian pastors are some of the loneliest people on earth.  They’re that way because far too many congregations are like the old Western town folk.  They don’t have the gumption to stand up to the church outlaws.  So, they let their sheriff get shot in the street by the bad guys while they cower in fear behind the bar.
            No pastor can stand alone.  He/she needs the strong support of church members who will stand with that pastor when the outlaws ride into church on their high horse.  When individual church members have had their way with a congregation for too long, they use every trick in the book (even trying to use the Bible for their backup) to keep the status quo because the way things are keeps them in power.
            Make no mistake about it, keeping power is what the outlaws want.  They will appeal to the fact that:  they are charter members; they give more money than anybody else; they did a certain ministry for decades; they know what the congregation is really thinking and feeling; and, they’ve seen pastors come and go and they’re still there.  Therefore, you should always listen to them and do what they say.
            Never mind that the church outlaws have never led another person to Jesus Christ (even though they’ll tell you how to do it).  Never mind that they don’t read their Bibles (even though they’ll let you know how many thousands of sermons they’ve heard over the years).  Never mind that they don’t worship God as a lifestyle (even though they’ll fight to the end over what a worship service is supposed to be like).
            If you’re reading this right now, chances are that you are not one of the church outlaws.  That’s because church outlaws are never learners and growers in Christ – they are only power-brokers in the church system.  This is precisely why you need to support your local sheriff and get that rifle out and head for the roof top.  If you don’t, the outlaws will keep throwing their bluster and weight around to get what they want.  And what will get lost in it all is God’s kingdom getting extended to the people who need it the most, and God’s will done on earth, as it is done in heaven.
            What’s at stake is not only your church’s reputation, but your community’s need for Jesus Christ.  Church outlaws don’t need to hold your congregation hostage.  Conflict in and of itself is not bad – it’s how you go about it.  But leaving a pastor out in the street to be hung by the outlaw mob in the name of keeping the peace is very bad and is not at all becoming of a faithful follower of Christ.  Not to mention that God himself will take notice of it if we refuse to act.

 

            Seek out your pastor.  Listen well to him/her.  Hear their heart for the church, and for the community.  Ask them how you can help.  And determine to stand with them when the outlaws ride into town.

Pray for Your Pastor

 
 
 Obey your leaders and do what they say. They are watching over you, and they must answer to God. So don’t make them sad as they do their work. Make them happy. Otherwise, they won’t be able to help you at all” (Hebrews 13:17, Contemporary English Version).
 
“Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God.Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit” (Hebrews 13:17, New Living Translation).
 
“Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?” (Hebrews 13:17, The Message)
 
A survey on American clergy by the Schaeffer Institute found some of the following information:
·         90% of pastors report working between 55-75 hours per week.
·         70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
·         50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they had another job lined-up right away.
·         80% of pastors believe church ministry has negatively affected their families.
·         80% of pastoral spouses feel lonely and underappreciated by church members.
·         40% of pastors report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
·         50% of pastors starting out will not last five years.
·         Only 10% of pastors will actually retire as pastors.
·         Over 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month in the United States; 1,300 of them are fired by their churches.
·         The number one reason pastors leave the ministry is that church people are not willing to go the same direction and support the goal of the pastor; pastors believe God wants them to go in one direction but the people are not willing to follow.
 
Speaking as a pastor, the one thing I want every single church member to know about me is this:  Your prayer support is my life support.  Without regular, earnest, sustained, fervent, and constant prayers sent for me and my family, no matter how hard I labor or how much I work the ministry will go nowhere.  But with habitual and spirited prayer, even the most anemic weaknesses can be transcended and the church can grow with thriving health and joy.
 
Lift up prayers for your pastor today and every day, appealing to God concerning these things:
            P rotection from the enemy
            R est
            A nointing of the Spirit
            Y ielded heart to God
            E ffectiveness in ministry

 

            Righteous life of integrity

Christian Soulcraft

 
           The word “soulcraft” might conjure different images in your mind.  I am not talking about a boat or a bike.  I am neither making reference about a video game nor a corporation.  I am not referring to any avant garde religious expression.  Rather, I put the two words “soul” and “craft” together to highlight the importance of what a solid pastoral ministry does for Christians.  Sometimes the metrics we use in the church to determine its effectiveness and impact has more to do with budgets, attendance, and building maintenance than it does with the careful crafting of souls into the image of Jesus.  We must become adept in the church at patiently and tediously constructing souls.  Caring for the spiritual needs of people ought to be high on the list of priorities for every church ministry.  It is a constant work in progress.
 
            Just as the term implies, caring for souls is a special craft that one tries to constantly improve.  Pastors and church leaders never come to the point of ceasing to need continuous training, education, and experience in the business of crafting souls that are bent toward Christ’s kingdom values.  Throughout the history of the church much attention has been given to the care of souls.  Early church fathers such as Gregory the Great took great pains to describe the pastor’s work as offering moral and spiritual guidance to both churched and unchurched persons.  The Reformation teaching of the priesthood of all believers is a special emphasis upon every Christian’s privilege and responsibility to intercede and help others toward spiritual growth and health. 
 
            In 1656, Puritan preacher Richard Baxter wrote a book, The Reformed Pastor,which set the standard of pastoral care for generations.  In his work, Baxter elaborated on seven functions of dealing with the souls of people:  converting the unconverted; giving advice to inquirers; building up the believers; shepherding the families in the parish community; visiting the sick and dying; reproving the impenitent; and, exercising church discipline.  All these functions are designed to do the pedantic work of crafting and forming souls.  It is often not glamorous high impact work; it is humble nitty-gritty ministry which typically goes unnoticed by many because it is a slow process over time.
 
            The many references to “one another” in the New Testament point toward the spiritual dynamic that needs to take place for souls to thrive.  Encouragement, mutual edification, love, forgiveness, and hospitality are just some of the tools of the trade in a careful crafting of souls.  As we look at the example of Jesus, such practices as healing, teaching, guiding, and mending souls were all a part of his mission to bring God’s benevolent kingdom to earth.  As we learn to help people toward peace, sustain them in difficult times, reconcile broken relationships, and guide them in making wise choices, we are doing good spiritual work and fortifying souls.
 
            We ourselves need to continually feed our souls if we want to do the work of soulcraft.  Engaging in the spiritual disciplines such as daily Scripture reading and prayer, practicing Sabbath rests, silence and solitude, fasting, and other spiritual tools can enable us to be built up in Christ so that we might shepherd others toward the ways of Jesus.
 

 

            The Apostle Peter encouraged his fellow leaders:  “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).  In difficult times, there is no greater need than the presence of God.  That divine presence is often mediated through loving shepherds and believers who take special care to bring grace to hurting people.  May it be so, to the glory of Jesus.