The tumultous life of the shepherd: Surviving the assult of the sheep

I am really thinking about my young adult colleageus who are coming into new appointments as I write this.  Welcome to itineracy!  You are enthused and hyped about all the vision God has loaded you up with to serve your congregation(s).  For the most part, you’ll meet some of the most loveable people in your life.  Many of them are on fire and ready to see the awesome move of God unravel in their midst.

Unfortunately, we have far too many congregations that are on life support, barely making it, striving to keep the paint from chipping, the roof from leaking and the doors from closing.    Often times they run around keeping the church “together” by working endlessly on a grammar free bulletin, gathering the weekly hymns to sing and hoping that the young adults in the neighborhood show up for the cookies and punch following the worship service.

I realize I sound synical.  I don’t mean to.  Some churches do these things well, meaning, they are Spirit led.  But, there are others that have forgotten why they are churches and as a result, their ministry is depleted and their results are few and the tree remains figless for one more season.

This is where you come in!  The longer you do ministry the more you’ll realize, (without ever reading a text on church growth, attending a workshop or hearing a super thinker at annual conference reporting on our impending demise) that something must drastically change if for no other reason than to learn the painful and often pscyhologically taxing but ultimately refreshing lesson that change fundamentally means that life goes on and so must we.

This is when you’ll get into trouble.  In rare occasions change is difficult for the entire church.  In most cases, change is difficult for a small percentage in that church.  Initiating change is almost always messy.  It is never pure.  It is never without mistakes and regrets in the process.  But, I want to help you survive the assualt of resistors.

It is pretty much an assault.  You will be ridiculed, talked about, blocked, schemed against, manipulated, questioned and doubted as you initiate change.  This is the first thing you must know.  Churches bite, at times.  It is not always the lovely community that smiles and admires your lovely adorning robes.  I was once told that once you accepted that animals bite you no longer spend extra time trying to change the fact that they bite and instead you adjust.  This is critical to surviving assult from the sheep.  Waste no time, in trying to change personalities and natures.  Only the Holy Spirit can do that anyway.  Press on.

This adjustment is what you must do, immediately.  Please know, while some churches bite, the bite is not about you.  They bit the one before you, no matter how loved he or she was, and they will bite the one following you.  While they will charge their contentment upon you, it is not your fault.  You may never be the preacher, teacher, administrater, business guru, legal analyst, psychotherapist, and activist they want you to be.  Then, you may be all those things, to perfection, and still find that you fall short of the grace of congregational love. Press on.

Further, be prepared to accept that for many of them, the church’s transformation feels like decline, loss and sorrow for them.  If you ignite your congregational transformation with the rebirth and the redistribution of leaders you will run into an attack of guilt trips and accusations that you are insensitive, mean and thoughtless.  Press on.

Do not, I repeat do not, as tempting as it may be, do not track down and run behind every rumor, bad thing, or idiotic statement that you may hear about you, your personhood and your being.  Even if some of it is right!  Press on.

Know that leadership is long, hard and painful at times.  You will feel completely isolated at times.  This will be exhausting to you, mentally, spiritually and psychologically  if you immerse yourself in your congregation in such a way that you forget that there is a world beyond your church’s doors.  It is absolutely imperative that you get OUT and ABOUT in the church world and be reminded that you are there to serve not to die.  Don’t isolate.  Instead, press on.

Stand your ground.  When Moses went to Pharoah he didn’t go there to play.  When Jesus came among us he didn’t come to jump rope.  They had serious work to do and there were many, I mean many who told them that they were not going to fulfill their work nor should they as they were not the real deal.  If Moses or Jesus gave in to the doubts, attacks, rejection, and even ignorance of the people of their day our story would be vastly different.  DO CHURCH ON PURPOSE.  Feel free to not accept anything that is NOT church.  Do the ministry of Christ on PURPOSE.  Press on.

Feel free to do a congregational power analysis.  Who are the leaders, elected or not?  Who are the one’s people listen to?  Who are the one’s that guide sections of your church?  Knowing who they are and planning accordingly is imperative.  Build leaders, usually that God will assign to carry out your ministry, vision and plan.  Equip them for the work of the church and prepare them to serve without fear but with firmness and love.  Press on.

So, what comfort is there for going through these assaults?  The comfort is in knowing that God always has the last Word.  The Word may not fully unravel during your tenure but that’s not what’s important.  Remember you are called to serve the present age, and part of the present age is always to look ahead of the coming age.  Don’t feel guilty moving forward.  Don’t feel guilty ushering in the Kingdom of God.  And know that God has called you to this season; either way, you will be victorious in God.

So, there is no getting around it.  If you are going to be an agent of change, if you are going to be a transformative element in the life of this Spirit wave of moving forward, if you are going to equip your congregation to be a vital, healthy and Spirit led group of leaders and disciples then conflict will be a part of your ministry just as thorns are a part of the beautiful budding rose.

The Red Sea doesn’t part everyday.  The church will be willing to go with you to cross that sea.  But, remember, there will be some who will tell you that yoare wrong for bringing them there, that you have forgotten the work of their ancestors on those fields for Pharoah, that you have no regard for the desires of those who don’t want to stay.  They will tell you this in such a convincing way, that even you will begin to wonder about yourself.

Always be willing to send the church across that sea but also willing to walk with those who can’t run as the others.  However, for persons who flat out decide not to go, you will have to look with great sadness, after your pleading and unfortunately leave them behind.

God will take care of them where they are.  This is why ministry is sometimes sad.  You will never forget those sheep you couldn’t save from the lion’s mouth.  You will never forget those sheep who walked straight into the pathway of the bear.  You will never forget those few sheep that refuse to come back to the fold with you.  You won’t forget them.  But, you will never know what it is to be a pastor until that day you lose some.

And who knows, maybe one day, when you least expect it, even those sheep will reappear, resurrected, renewed and readjusted ready to come home.

In that day, thank God that one or two of those seeds you planted did take root.

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~ by bkevinsmalls on July 15, 2013.

One Response to “The tumultous life of the shepherd: Surviving the assult of the sheep”

  1. Well said, Bro. Rev!

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