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Monday, December 1, 2014

The Shepherd’s Soul Task

The Heavenly Father will ask,
Every shepherd their sheep to keep,
That is their principal task,
The protection and care of the sheep.
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“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where they have been driven. And I will bring them back to their fold, and they will be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.”
— Jeremiah 23:1-4
These are words of warning or words of hope for comfort, depending on your viewpoint. This message wrought through the lips and heart of Jeremiah the persecuted prophet is both a word of warning and a word of hope for comfort. Too many shepherds in too many generations have been bad shepherds like the hired hand in Jesus’ parable of the Good Shepherd in John chapter 10.
The Bad Shepherd
We, unfortunately, know him too well. We’ve either seen or experienced him firsthand or we’ve heard about him. He is irresponsible so far as the needs of the flock are concerned; he (or she) doesn’t accept any blame for the destruction of parts or the scattering of sections of their flock. There is always somebody else to blame or the issue is made to seem less important than it is. Yet, there is no issue quite as important as this one, and there is only one person ever responsible for the sheep of the fold: their shepherd.
The Good Shepherd
We’ve heard of and experienced this type of shepherd, too. The trouble is it seems to feel more like folklore than a possibility for reality.
Sheep of any flock crave to be shepherded. No matter where they’ve come from they want to be protected from the wiles of the wolf – and today’s wolf is disguised so much that the vulnerable are ever most desperate for the care of the good shepherd. We are all vulnerable when it comes to our mental, emotional and spiritual worlds. We all need a good shepherd who we can trust our care to. The good shepherd is entirely trustworthy and will never sell even one of his sheep short.
***
So, if you’re a pastor, are you a bad shepherd or a good shepherd? It is not too late to say you’re sorry for having let some of the flock be destroyed or scattered. They may be scattered because of you. Be an encouragement to those you hurt. Don’t be afraid when it comes to making amends. If it’s done with respect and politely, most people will forgive anything.
***
Pastors are not first of all evangelists or teachers or prophets, but they are shepherds. Theirs is a pastoral task; and a pastor’s heart to protect and care for the flock of God entrusted to them is to be their number one value, priority, and identity.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

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