Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A pastoral struggle uncovered

I haven't been in pastoral ministry all that long, only about 8 years, but it has been more than long enough to ride the rollercoaster of emotions as I have sought to shepherd people.  There have been some who have come from darkness to light... there have been some who have simply faked it for years before suddenly waking up and coming alive... there are some who have battled great adversity and suffering and yet have held on to their faith like it was their last possession on earth... there have been some who turned up seeking something but quickly disappeared when they couldn't find it... and there have been some who track along in the church for years, showing signs of growth and joy only to shipwreck their faith seemingly overnight.

To be honest I haven't really thought that much about how I have responded to this rollercoaster until Bryan Chapell spoke in the morning session of day 2 of Oxygen Christian Leaders Conference.  Chapell shared from Jesus' bold statement "I am the Son of God" from John 10:36 and in the process uncovered my pastoral heart.

See deep down inside when God called me to shepherd the people I think I took the charge one step further than I was supposed to.  Yes I was called to ride that rollercoaster with all the different people at different stages of faith journey but I was not called to personalise the end result.  I was not called to be the one who held people in the faith, who sustained people through suffering, who opened blind eyes, who snatched people from danger... Yes God wanted me to play a part in all of this but the power was not mine and the end result did not depend on me.

One of Chapell's main points was how the Father and Son worked together to hold people in the faith and sustain people in the faith.  Jesus says in John 10:28, "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." And while I have heard this countless times I don't think I fully took it to heart.  What I needed to understand was:

  • The people who came to faith came because they heard Jesus' voice
  • The people who stayed in the faith stayed because Jesus kept them there
  • The people who held on in the face of great adversity were held by the infinitely powerful hand of the Father

I had allowed my passion for pastoral ministry to elevate my understanding of my role in all of this.  It is not that I thought that I was saving people or that I thought I was the power that kept people in the church... in fact if you had asked me I would have immediately promoted the saving power of Jesus.  It was more that I over-estimated my part in God's salvation plan and bore too much of the burden of people's lostness on myself.  Only as I have reflected on this reality has God brought the names and faces of people who have drifted away to my mind and reminded me of the pain, responsibility and dare I say guilt I feel because they fell away.

Chapell said that often we seek to hear Jesus because we think in Him we will find all the answers to this burden... that if I just know more about Jesus... or have another sharp and pointed answer to objections... or another beautiful story about Him... that I will have everything I need to pull people back from the brink of destruction.  But what I needed was not to seek to hear Jesus so I would have answers to the problems that other people faced but so that I had true and tangible hope that Jesus is who He says He is... He is the Son of God and the Son of God can and will save His sheep.

I needed to see the reality that the Father had given Jesus His sheep and that Jesus had kept these sheep and that no one could snatch them away because they were held by the Father.  They were not held by my preaching... they were not held by our programs... they were not held by my pastoral care... they were not held by me... At times I have probably been guilty of viewing people in the church as valuable because they gave my ministry meaning, but Chapell powerfully showed me that people were valuable because they were God's most treasured gifts to His own Son.

I know that God wants me to walk alongside the people of His church regardless of whether they are climbing high or falling fast... I know that God wants me to reach out to those who are sliding away into the clutches of unbelief... and I know God wants me to lament over those who have been lost... but He doesn't want me to be crushed by this journey.  He wants me to rest in the reality that He has His sheep in His hands and they are listening to His voice and He will never let them go.  He wants me to hear again and again that Jesus is the Son of God and is more than able to save.

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