Saturday, February 9, 2019

Here I Am, Send Me

It was my privilege to preach on Monday of Christian Focus Week at Ouachita Baptist University.  The them for the week was "Here I Am."  Batting lead off, I got to take the very text from which that phrase comes, Isaiah 6:1-13.  Another speaker from the week posted her message to her blog.  That gave me the idea to do the same thing.  Here is my message: Here I Am, Send Me … 

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Excited to float the river, you put in your raft under bright blue skies.  Not three miles downriver, a storm blows up out of nowhere.  Lightning flashing.  Thunder crashing.  Wind whipping.  Rain pouring.  River rising.  Heart racing.  Frigid white water splashing into your raft.  Clothes soaked.  Feet and hands growing numb from the cold.  Current taking control.  Raft spinning in circles.  Oar ripped from your hands as you try to push off from a rock.  Helpless now to steer your course, you hold on for dear life … and just up ahead, the falls.

That was Isaiah in the temple.  Hear the word of the Lord … (read the text).

I

I wonder if Annie Dillard had Isaiah’s experience in mind when she wrote these words …

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions.  Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?  Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?  The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.  It is madness to wear ladies' … hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.  Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.  For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. [1]

Isaiah had come to the temple that day seeking the Lord.  He may have been filled with some grief and uncertainty.  King Uzziah was dead, and the whole nation was on edge.  Uzziah had ruled Judah for 52 years.  He was the only king Isaiah had known.  The splendor of Uzziah's reign, recorded in 2 Chronicles 26, was impressive.  He had modernized the army, conquered territory in Philistia, extended commercial activities into Egypt, and boosted agriculture.  Not since Solomon had the nation known such peace and prosperity.  Had Judah been a democracy, Uzziah, like Franklin Roosevelt, would have been elected over and over again.  Not only was he a political giant, until he got arrogant near the end, he mostly did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.  He was a pretty good king.  And now this man who had done so much for his country was dead.

To make matters worse, Assyria, the new bully on the block, was coming into her own, beating her chest, harassing her neighbors, and slaughtering enemies in the most ruthless ways.  Assyria was a terrorist nation: ISIS, Alqaeda, and the Taliban rolled into one.  Twisted, evil, bad to the bone.  The Northern Kingdom was already dealing with these animals.  How much longer till Assyria set her sights on Judah? 

And why not?  Judah’s righteousness—filthy rags.  Judah’s sin—off the charts.  Judah’s future was uncertain.  Perhaps, Isaiah felt his own future a bit uncertain.  Uzziah was off his throne.  Was God still on his?  So Isaiah came to the temple seeking God.

And got more than he bargained for!  He saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and lifted up.  His train filled the temple.  Seraphim were flying around tending to the Lord. "Holy, Holy, Holy!" was the anthem of the day.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
his glory fills the whole earth.

God's train filled the temple, and his glory filled the whole wide world.  The Lord is too big to be held comfortably in the walls of a building.  So as the seraphim sang and God's presence filled that place, the door-posts shook, the foundation trembled, wafts of smoke billowed about, and Isaiah reached to his head to make sure his crash helmet was on good and tight.

What does a person say in the presence of such things?  Well, if he can say anything at all, he echoes Isaiah.  "Woe is me!"  That's funeral language.  He thought he was going to die.  "Woe is me!"  he said.  "I am ruined.  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty."  How can a sinner stand in the presence of a holy God and expect to survive? Isaiah figured he was a goner for sure.
 
And if the place hadn't been heaving like a ship in a storm, he'd have probably made a run for it.  Instead, he tightened his seat belt and hung on for dear life.  When suddenly one of the seraphim, with tongs in his hands, took a white hot coal off the altar and made a bee-line for Isaiah.  "Oh, no!" Isaiah must have thought. "If I have to die, why do I have to be burned to death." 

Fearing for his life, his eyes red and stinging from the smoke, Isaiah hunkered down and hoped for the best.  The seraph took the coal, touched Isaiah's lips and declared, “Your guilt is gone, your sin forgiven.”  What?  Good news instead of bad news!  A little cross before the cross.  A little Jesus before he even came.  “Amazing grace!  How sweet the sound that save a wretch like me!”  “Your guilt is gone, your sin forgiven.”  What an incredible turn of events!  Isaiah thought he would die because of his sin, but God killed his sin and kept Isaiah alive. 

And when Isaiah saw that he was going to survive, he was so moved by the grace and mercy of God that when God gave the invitation: "Who should I send?  Who will go for us?"  Isaiah was the first one to step out from his pew, walk down the aisle, and say to the Lord, "Here I am.  Send me!"

And with that act of surrender, the smoke cleared, the temple settled back on its foundation, Isaiah took off his crash helmet, unbuckled his seatbelt, and walked away with a job to do, his life never again to be the same.

II

It was not an easy job.  No cush assignment for Isaiah.  It wasn’t a mission trip to Maui.  It wasn’t, “Open a spiritual retreat center at the top of Mt. Hebron.”  It wasn’t, “Go bring spiritual revival to the land.”  No.  You heard God’s assignment for Isaiah in our text: “Dull their minds.  Make them deaf.  Blind their eyes … lest they see, hear, understand, turn back to me, and be healed.”  Huh? 

When I was ordained, the church told me, “Go preach the gospel.  Preach people to salvation and shepherd them to Christian maturity.”  My commission was, “Open eyes.  Open ears.  Convince minds.”  God had a different commission for Isaiah.  Judah was growing sick with sin.  Granite hearts toward God.  God had taken about all he was going to take of their idolatry and rebellion.  They had crossed some line of no return.  “Dull their minds.  Make them deaf.  Blind their eyes.  Judgment is on the way.”

Isaiah was confused.  He asked in v. 11 – “Lord, how long do I have to preach like that?”

And God said, “Until cities are piles of rubble, houses are empty, the land doesn’t grow a thing, I drive the people far away, and Judah looks like a forest of stumps.”  Good grief!  So much for preaching for growth.  Isaiah’s going to have one lousy ministry resume. 

I heard an African-American pastor tell about a church he knew that was one sorry church.  The pastor got so discouraged that he left for greener pastures.  The church had a hard time finding another pastor, so they asked the only deacon in the church who had any commitment, “Would you be our pastor?”  He prayed about it and said yes.  In telling his story, the pastor said, “My first act was to get the deacons together and tell them how things were going to be and what I expected of them.  They balked: ‘That’s asking way too much.  We’re not going to do that.’ 

“So, you know what I did?  I fired those deacons.  I preached that church down from 50 people to 8.  And then God started growing that church every way a church could grow.  We’re more than a hundred now, and most of those folks are on fire for Jesus.”

God’s assignment for Isaiah: fire those deacons, fire those priests, fire those idolaters, fire those leaders who lead people astray.  Preach Judah down to a tenth, down to a forest of stumps. 

God gave Isaiah such a hard job to do, that on first read, I thought, “Maybe it’s a wise thing that God got Isaiah’s commitment—'Here I am. Send me’—before God gave him his job.”

III

But God almost always works that way with his people.  He wants us to respond to him, not to a job opportunity.  He wants us to worship him, not the mission.  He is God, not some headhunter in Human Resources.  Unless you get a compelling vision of God, your “Here I am. Send me” is going to be nothing more than a flash in the pan.  “Here I am. Send me … until the job gets hard … or the job gets boring … or the results don’t happen … or the pay’s too small … or the people to whom God sends me don’t like me very much.”  If your “Here I am. Send me” is going to weather storms and downturns and hard times; if it’s going to last, it must begin with a compelling vision of God …

·         the one true God

·         King God high and lifted up on his throne

·         the holy, holy, holy God whose glory fills the whole wide world

·         the forgiving God of grace and mercy who sees your sin and forgives your sin not by a hot coal from the altar but by the blood of his own Son Jesus nailed to the altar of the cross for you and for me.

Do you know this God?  Or do you worship some lesser god, some little-g god, some pipsqueak god?

·         Some worship the god of my comfort—the god who exists to make me happy and keep me healthy, wealthy, and comfortable.

·         Some worship the god of my convenience—the god who never interferes with my life and who always works with my schedule.

·         Some worship the god in my pocket—the god I can take out and use whenever I need him but tuck him away when things are going my way.

·         Some worship the god of my prejudice—the god who likes the same people I like and hates the same people I hate.  What are the odds?

Little g gods all.  Is that all the god you want?  Wilbur Rees wrote …

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.  Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine.  I don't want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant worker.  I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth.  I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.  I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please. [2]

Some worship any host of little g-gods.  False gods.  No gods.  Gods who exist for me rather than the other way around.  Gods who are in it for my glory rather than their own.  Pathetic, useless idols of my own making.  Three-dollar gods.

Our little g gods are not compelling.  They can’t fill a temple, let alone the earth.  They have no authority.  They have no glory.  They offer no forgiveness.  They inspire no obedience.  They can’t call anyone to a mission.  If you worship some little g god of your own making, here’s the only response your idol compels: “Here I am. Serve me.”

But Isaiah’s God, the God of the Scripture, the one true God, our God, inspires worship, obedience, mission …

IV

And hope!  Even when the mission is hard like Isaiah’s.  Even when it seems beyond us.  Hope!  Even after God commissions Isaiah to preach Judah into a forest of stumps, God can’t help himself but to work in a little hope.  Alec Motyer says, “Typically of Isaiah, hope is the unexpected fringe attached to the garment of doom.”[3]  Hope.  It’s in that last line in v. 13—“The holy seed is the stump.”  All that hard preaching, but in the end, hope: “the holy seed is the stump.”  What seed?  What stump?  Maybe a remnant of God’s holy people through whom God could keep his covenant, do his work, and send Messiah to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.  Hello, Jesus. 

·         Isaiah 7:14 – “The Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.”  Hope.

·         Isaiah 9:6-7 – “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.”  Hope.

·         Isaiah 11:1-2a – “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him.”  Hope.

·         And Isaiah 53:6 – “All we, like sheep, have gone astray, we’ve turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  Hope.

“The holy seed is the stump.”  Even when the mission is hard, we serve with hope.  That hope is Jesus.  Even before the foundations of the world, as Trinity contemplated how to rescue us from our sin and the wreck we make of our lives and God’s world, Jesus said to the Father, “Here I am. Send me.”  And when the time was right, Jesus put on flesh and came all the way down.  Jesus showed us the Father.  Jesus died on the cross.  Jesus rose from the dead.  Jesus ascended to the Father in heaven, and one day Jesus will come again in glory and power and prove that his mission triumphs no matter what things look or feel like in the moment. 

We’re talking about the same Jesus who continues his mission through you and me.  You may feel God is sending you to a dry hole.  You may see little results as the world counts results.  But there’s hope.  Jesus is with you.  Because his glory fills the whole wide world there is no place he can send you where he is not already there.  Across the campus, across the world, he is there.  Get a vision of God high and lifted up in the temple.  Get a vision of the resurrected Jesus who holds the world in his nail-scarred hands.  And that vision will so propel your mission that its place or ease or hardship won’t be a factor in your “Here I am. Send me.”

V

Can you say that today?  Back in the 50s and 60s a man named Clarence Jordan used to manage a place in Georgia called Koinonia Farm.  It was a community to demonstrate in a most racist, Jim Crow time and place that people of different color can live together in equality in Christ.  As you can imagine, they were a misunderstood and persecuted lot.  Clarence had a brother named Bob who was an attorney, and Clarence asked him if he would represent Koinonia Farm in legal transactions.

“Clarence, I can’t do that,” said Bob.  “You know my political aspirations.  If I represent you, I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.”

“We might lose everything too, Bob.”

“It’s different for you, Clarence.”

“Why is it different?  I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church on the same Sunday, as boys.  I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me about the same question he did you.  He asked me, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’  And I said, ‘Yes.’  What did you say, Bob?”

“I follow Jesus too, Clarence … up to a point.”

“Could that point by any chance be the cross?”

“That’s right,” said Bob.  “I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross.  I’m not getting myself crucified.”

“Then I don’t believe you’re a disciple, Bob.  You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple of his.  I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to and tell them you’re an admirer, not a disciple.”[4]

Yikes!  Two boys.  Same upbringing.  Same church.  Same service.  Same sermon.  Both sensed something of God’s call in that worship service: “Who should I send?  Who will go for us?”  But I think Clarence got a vision of a bigger God than Bob did.  Clarence saw the one true God—high and lifted up, the God whose train filled the church and whose glory filled the earth, the God who had the authority and power and gravitas to compel even the most difficult of missions.  Clarence got a vision of the one true God.  Bob must have seen a little g God.  Because on that Sunday when the brothers professed faith in Christ, Clarence said, “Here I am, send me,” and Bob said, “Here I am, send Clarence.”

God is here this morning.  He’s looking out on the room.  He’s looking at you.  “Who should I send.  Who will go for us?”  How will you answer?


[1]Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, (New York: HarperPerennial, 1982), 58-59.
[2]Cited by Charles R. Swindoll, Improving Your Serve: The Art of Unselfish Living (Waco, TX: Word, 1981), 29.
[3]J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 79.
[4]I have no direct source from this story other than to say I have heard it in more than one venue.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The 23rd Pastor (Excerpt from Chapter 2 "Shepherd")

In the second chapter of The 23rd Pastor, I write about the phrase, "The Lord is my shepherd," and apply that to pastoral life.  Here are some excerpts …


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Maybe you remember one of John Denver’s biggest hits: “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy!”  I love the song, but I am no country boy.  I spent the first eight years of my life in Little Rock, Arkansas.  I did the rest of my growing up in Branson, Missouri.  I grew up in a city and a small town.  I never lived on Green Acres.  I visited a farm a time or two.  And while I have known some men who worked with cattle, I have never known a shepherd.  “The Lord is my rancher”—I could understand that a little better.  Ranchers raise cattle, brand the calves, move them from pasture to pasture, keep them watered, and when the time is right, they sell them to the highest bidder so they can make a living, and you and I can enjoy that ribeye or that hamburger.  Maybe that is why ranchers try not to get too attached to their cattle.  “The Lord is my rancher.”  No thanks.

 “The Lord is my shepherd.”  That’s better.

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Without minimizing the importance of character and oversight in the pastor’s work, I am suggesting that the shepherd metaphor gives key direction to the work of a biblical pastor, especially a 23rd pastor.  The shepherd metaphor becomes the filter through which our character and oversight passes as we lead the congregations God entrusts to us.  Our character reflects the character of our Shepherd Lord—minus, of course, his sinlessness and perfection.  Even though Jesus may be blurred a bit by our faults, shepherd-pastors want the flock to see glimpses of Jesus in them.  We want to bear in our character his resemblance.  We want to offer our oversight through the heart of a shepherd, so we lead the flock rather than drive them, we love them rather than use them, we draw close to them rather than keep them at arm’s length, we get to know them rather than view them as a necessary nuisance to our work, and we consider what’s best for the flock rather than what’s best for us.  The good shepherd Jesus laid down his life for the sheep; sometimes we shepherd-pastors must lay down some things of our own to serve the flock with a shepherd’s care.

When we try to be a shop-keeper or CEO rather than a shepherd, our character and our oversight tends to reflect power rather than service, bottom-lines rather than relationships, self rather than Jesus.  In his book, They Smell Like Sheep, Lynn Anderson recounts an incident from some of his travels in the Holy Land.  Anderson and his local guide had spent part of a day traveling around the region learning about sheep and shepherds.  Late in the day, they observed a man cruelly driving a flock of sheep through the streets of a town.  This man yelled at the sheep and whacked them with a stick whenever they got out of line.  Although the sheep kept moving forward, they were visibly shaken.  Anderson commented to his guide that this harsh, driving man did not conform to the description of the kind, leading shepherd that his guide had given him throughout the day.  “Oh, that man’s not the shepherd,” his guide replied.  “That man’s the butcher.”[1]  Shepherd-pastors will never be confused with butchers.

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I remember the first time I preached the ordination service for a pastor.  Mike Roy had grown up in the church I served in Greenwood, Missouri.  God called him to ministry.  And when he became pastor of a nearby church, he asked if I would preach the service.  I was honored to do so.  It was during this time that God had been working out this shepherd image in my heart.  That image drove the sermon whose title was “Be a Real Minister” and whose text was 1 Peter 5:1-5.  In encouraging Mike to shepherd his flock like Jesus shepherds us all, here is part of the charge I offered him that day:


Be a shepherd who nurtures a relationship to the flock through love.  Love the people with whom God calls you to work.  It’s not easy because some aren’t very easy to love, some don’t love us back, and some may even work against us.  Love them anyway.  Don't harangue them or abuse them.  Don't speak ill of them.  In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God.  A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God."[1]   You are part of them.  When you accuse them you accuse yourself.  So love them with a Christ-like love.  Love them by being with them.  Be with them when the baby comes.  Be with them when death barges in.  Be with them in the hospital and in the home, in the cemetery and in the study.  Be with them in good times and in bad.  Imagine them looking over your shoulder and whispering in your ear as you seek to hear in a Bible text the word they need to hear from God.  Keep them in your heart.  They will try you sometimes.  They may frustrate you often.  You will sometimes feel like throwing up your hands and shaking the dust off your feet.  They may even feel the same about you sometimes.  But keep them in your heart.  Feel for them what Paul felt for the Philippian church: “I long for you all,” he wrote to them, “with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:8).  Love them because of who they are—the bride of Christ, the church of the living God—and in spite of who they are—stubborn sinners, works in progress, but a work that God began and will continue until the day of Jesus Christ.  And in the midst of being with them, show them Christ and point them to him in all things—even when it’s hard and even when you don’t feel like it.  For the sheep in the flock and for those still outside, in all things and in every situation, point them to Christ.  Lean on the staff of the Chief Shepherd and he will help you.

            And, my shepherd-pastor friend, he will help you too.

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The 23rd Pastor would make a good gift at Christmas for your pastor.  You can find it at Amazon.com.  Thanks.




[1]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1954), 29.



[1]Cited by Blaine McCormick and David Davenport, Shepherd Leadership: Wisdom for Leaders from Psalm 23 (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 115.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The 23rd Pastor (Excerpt from chapter 1: "A Psalm for the Pastor's Journey")

The 23rd Pastor: Shepherding in the Spirit of Our Shepherd Lord released a couple of weeks ago on Amazon.com.  This is more than a how-to book; it's a book that tends to the pastor's soul.  I'm using my blog to share excerpts from the book.  Here's an excerpt from chapter 1: "A Psalm for the Pastor's Journey" …

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A gnawing sense of Inadequacy is a daunting shroud that weighs upon a pastor’s ministry either paralyzing him into inaction or firing up nervous feet that send him running away from the pain and people he should be running toward.  “If only I could be more self-confident,” a pastor whispers to himself. 

No.  Psalm 23 reminds us that self-confidence is not what we need; God-confidence is what we need—confidence in “the Lord … with me … forever.”  Psalm 23 reminds us that our Shepherd Lord gives us everything we need in any situation when we lean into him.  His rod and staff, they comfort us.  If we need wisdom, God will give it.  If we need courage, God will give it.  If we need compassion, God will give it.  If we need words, God will give them.  It is important that we pastors prepare ourselves and equip ourselves for the broad and demanding nature of our work, but no pastor can be prepared for everything.  We don’t have to be—because we are not alone when we enter these situations.  Our Shepherd Lord is with us.  Experience breeds confidence.  Pastoral seasoning breeds confidence.  Training breeds confidence.  But nothing breeds more confidence in me than knowing my Shepherd Lord is leading me, is with me, and will be faithful to me all the way to the end as I depend on him.

In fact, this dependence on our Shepherd Lord can keep us from trying to play God, from trying to fix people or manage their lives in our feeble wisdom.  I have done my worst work when I have tried to fix people: “Listen to me.  Do this.  Don’t do that.”  Some people get helped, but most folks get frustrated because they either cannot or will not follow the counsel, and I get frustrated because they don’t take my “wise” advice.  (I sometimes wonder how many people I’ve messed up along the way.)  I do my best work when I point them not to myself but to the one true Shepherd Lord and his wisdom and resources.  If I can get their hands into the hand of Jesus, if I can get them wrestling their issues out in prayer and Scripture, he can lead them to green pastures, still waters, down righteous paths, and through the dark valley to a better place and a brighter day.  He can restore their soul.  He can get them all the way home.  I can’t.  The Lord can.

Early in my ministry, an older minister told me that I would be called upon to enter a lot of situations that are way over my head, situations where I would not know what to do.  He said, “You don’t have to know what to do, but you need to act like you do.”  This is a “fake it till you make it” approach to pastoral care.  It worked pretty well for me early in my ministry.  But it did not take too many years for me to realize I do not always have to know what to do, because Jesus knows what to do.  I have to know Jesus.  I have to trust my Shepherd Lord.  And when I find my confidence in him rather than in myself, he has a way of showing up and doing his thing in spite of my shortcomings.  That is my great hope as a 23rd pastor.

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I encourage you to get your copy on Kindle or in paperback at Amazon.com.  Thanks!

Monday, November 5, 2018

The 23rd Pastor (Excerpts from the Introduction)

Okay, so I'm trying to promote my newly released book, The 23rd Pastor: Shepherding in the Spirit of Our Shepherd Lord.  Here are a couple of excerpts from the introduction …

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I share this to suggest that a pastor in the classical sense—a shepherd pastor—can still pastor a growing church.  I understand that some of you are in churches that have little potential for growth.  Rural America and many of its small towns are dying.  Numerical growth is difficult to achieve in settings where population declines, schools consolidate or close, business dries up, Main Street looks like a boarded-up ghost town, young people move away, and the average age of residents increases.  If you pastor in a dying community, please don’t belittle your ministry.  And don’t think this book is not for you.  If God has called you in this season to shepherd a church whose average attendance numbers drop every year, you are there by God’s design to serve his purpose.  Give it all you’ve got.  Such churches and communities need a pastor who loves God and loves them.  And remember: churches can grow in numerous ways.  A church can grow in unity, in generosity, in mission vision and involvement, in community ministry, in development and deployment of the members’ spiritual gifts, in biblical understanding, and in faithfulness.  If you pastor in a community where numerical growth is not likely, shepherd the church toward whatever health and growth look like in your setting.  I was glad that when the 80s rolled into the 90s, the language and discussion moved from “church growth” to “church health.”  If you can shepherd your church into health, the church will grow in the ways it needs to grow and has the capacity to grow.  Unless you see the name Ichabod[1] written across the front door of your church building, don’t give up.  God hasn’t written off you or the church you serve.  Don’t you write them off either.    

And if you are in a situation where the potential for numerical growth is more realistic, shepherd the church toward growth in healthy ways.  Avoid slick strategies.  Seek the glory of God before rising numbers.  Shepherd your people toward passionate worship, persevering prayer, evangelism, ministry, authenticity, extravagant giving, and genuine love for God and people.  Shepherd in these ways, and God will grow the church in non-numerical ways that will likely lead to rising numbers as well.  Such numerical growth will be organic rather than contrived or manipulated.  It will be the result of relationships and the wooing of the Holy Spirit rather than the latest church attendance fad of the day.  That is how God has grown the two churches I have shepherded. 




[1]1 Samuel 4:21. 


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Across the years, I have found nurture and instruction for my pastoral work in David’s words about the Lord’s shepherd work.  The psalm has inspired me to be a 23rd pastor—aware of the vast expanse of the field, yet attentive to the central tasks of the work, a pastor who leads and nurtures in the name and wisdom of the One who leads and nurtures him.

This is a needed reminder.  General observation leads me to believe that the new generation of pastors does not receive much training or encouragement in classic pastoral practices.  And plenty of mid-lifers and old-timers like me, in the weariness of decades of ministry, may have forgotten a few things along the way.  Worse yet, some longtime pastors have decided to lean their rod and staff in a corner, take their ease, and meander their way into retirement, leaving the flock to fend for themselves.  We can do better.  God expects better.  Tend the flock.  Feed the sheep.  That’s what shepherd pastors do.  And the church needs more of them.  There are times when I feel like a dying breed—a pastoral relic, a marred statue in the museum of pastoral history, a throwback Thursday pastor every day of the week.  There is so much emphasis these days on church planting, church revitalization, and niche churches that most of the training involves leadership skills, vision development, organizational structure, and outreach strategies for reaching a church’s target demographic.  But whether you pastor First Church or Split Church or Biker Church or Hispanic Church or Cowboy Church or Duck Dynasty Church or Homeless Church, the people still need a pastor, and the pastor still needs the Shepherd Lord.  The church will be forever blessed if this breed of pastor never dies.

I am writing this book to keep this breed of pastor alive and well.  I also want to dispel any ideas that a shepherd pastor is a passive pastor, timid to do much more than dry some tears, hold some hands, and try to keep the flock happy.  Shepherd pastors certainly dry tears and hold hands, but they also lead, challenge, and grow the flock in healthy ways.  Shepherd pastors are quick to pat their sheep on the head and willing to take their staff and poke their sheep in the flank when necessary.  Shepherd pastors are anything but passive.  Shepherd pastors lead their flock like Jesus leads his.  Frederick Buechner wrote some words that have made me smile and also haunted me a bit since I read them: “There is perhaps no better proof for the existence of God than the way year after year he survives the way his professional friends promote him.”[1]  I do not want God to “survive” my ministry.  I want God to thrive in my ministry, in the church I serve, and in me.  Most pastors I know want that too.  And that best happens when we learn to shepherd God’s church under the presence, blessing, leadership, and guidance of our Chief Shepherd Jesus.





[1]Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), 187.

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If you find that intriguing, I encourage you check out the book via paperback or Kindle (you have to search them separately at Amazon.com.  Thanks.