Jesus... The Answer to the Shepherding and Mission Paradox

·          “If this church continues to change I won’t have a home here anymore…  If this church doesn’t change I plan on leaving!” 
·         “We need to be careful that we don’t compromise to the world…  We need to adjust so that we can communicate to the world!”
·         “We need a Traditional Worship Service; for it is a reverential form of worship…  We need a Contemporary Worship Service; for it is a missional form of worship!”
·         “We need to preserve our heritage…  We need to anticipate the future!”
·          “We are trying to take care of the flock…  We are trying to reach out to the lost!”
·         “In… Out!”
·         “Shepherding…  Missions!”

These are just a few of the many comments that I hear as a pastor in the church.  There is no doubt about it that there is tension between ‘shepherding’ and ‘missions.’  To be totally honest I have questioned whether or not I can pastor two sharply divided perspectives.  I have heard it said that, “when one tries to be a bridge; that they get walked on from both sides.”  In a lot of ways I have found this to be true.  What pains me most as a pastor is not the occasional bumps and bruises that I receive in attempting to be a bridge.  No, instead it is the bitter tension that I have witnessed rising out of Satan's deception as the flock is grouped into 'they' and 'them' camps.  I will admit that I have often bounced back and forth, like a reed blowing in the wind, trying to appease these camps; those of the ‘shepherding persuasion’ and those of the ‘missions persuasion.’  This I confess as my own sin and also corporately confess this as the sin of the church.
The reason why we can corporately confess the ‘they and them’ camp mentality as sin is because under the cross there are no camps.  Well, to be a little more precise, there really are two camps; sinners and the Lord Jesus.  That’s it!  As humans, we are all in the same camp, sinners in need of grace!  But, you may be thinking, what about missions and shepherding, aren't those two valid camps?  For the longest time I would’ve answered yes. However, lately scripture has been reshaping my thinking on this and it can reshape our thinking too!  
We Need Both
According to our human understanding both shepherding and missions stand in stark contrast to each other. They don’t mix well and are in conflict and competition with each other. Yet in the person of Jesus they are completely held in harmony.  You see, Jesus graciously commissions the church to both!  In scripture we see Jesus saying, “Peter, do you love me?  Then feed my sheep" as an example of the call to shepherdingHe also says, "All authority has been given to me, go and make disciples; the calling of believers to missions.”  If Jesus commissions us to both, we need not view them as two competing forces fighting for the heart of the church.  As we find ourselves tempted to think in 'they' and 'them' categories and find our defenses rising as we justify our 'camp' let us remember the truth of the Word as it points us to the Cross of Jesus. Two camps?  Two teams?  Absolutely not…these are lies from the Devil; let us not fall into this temptation.

The freedom of the Gospel of Christ is apparent when, as a church, we get to shepherd the flock and at the same time extend the gospel to unreached people in missions.  Two beautiful callings from the same savior!  One Camp… Christ; One Team… Christ; and Two divine callings from the same Savior!
Jesus Satisfies Both
Jesus, not only graciously commissions the church to both missions and shepherding but he also satisfies both. 
A familiar routine, comfort and church heritage, externally encourage the flock but these things ultimately fail in granting comfort and assurance to the depths of soul.  On the other side of the coin, new fads, hip technique and fancy jargon can effectively communicate to unreached people however these things ultimately fail in granting faith and life to the core of a hardened heart. 
The reason that routine, comfort, church heritage, new fads, techniques and jargon are powerless in effectively shepherding and conducting missions is that Jesus alone feeds the souls of the flock and it is Jesus alone that grants new life to unreached people.  Jesus, not only satisfies both missions and shepherding He is the answer, solution and motive for both.  To place our foundational hope for shepherding and missions in anything else is idolatry and futile at best.  May God the Holy Spirit grant us conviction of our sins in this.  We have One Team… One Camp… Two Divine Callings… One Solution, Jesus Christ.
We Get to Focus on Unity not Uniformity
As shepherding and missions continue in the church we can have complete assurance in the fact that our unity is found in Christ; Him alone.  The church can embrace shepherding and missions.  Regardless of how different these two flavors of ministry might externally seem we can still be 100% unified!  The reason being, scripture never calls for Christian ‘uniformity’ but Christian ‘unity.’  As a church our unity is in Christ and the Gospel; not in uniformity over style, preferences, methods and the like.  To place importance on unity in anything else other than in Christ actually instead goes the way of uniformity, which ultimately leads to bondage, tension and church conflict.  Praise God that shepherding and missions in Jesus name can simultaneously happen in the church at the same time without causing disunity.  One Team…  One Camp…  Two Divine Callings… One Solution…  United in Christ!

As believers in Christ we are blessed by Jesus' shepherding and Jesus' mission towards us so that we may shepherd others and be in mission to others.  May God unite His church around Jesus and Him alone.  May God protect us from placing our hopes of unity in anything else other than in Christ.  May God refocus our hearts to unity in Christ rather than uniformity in externals.  May God firmly root us in the Name of Jesus!

Jesus…  Jesus… Jesus…  It is all about Jesus!


Anonymous said…
Important stuff, Matt. Thanks for the industry, tenderness, and strength it took to compose this article.

When we gather together scriptures on the tension between shepherding and mission, we do see both shining through. Also, there are places where both are nicely compacted in a single verse or two. One example is John 10:16, where Jesus, the Great Shepherd, on that account, also makes himself what we could call the Great Missionary: "I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd." Jesus is here calling those who have not received him yet but will his sheep, and says there will be one fold of US, no US and THEM. I have no authority to call the other sheep anything but what Jesus calls them, sheep, and his sheep. The church must not be found calling those whom Jesus calls HIS something else. If we do, we are confused about their identity, our identity, and Christ's identity. The identity of sheep is this: those who hear the Shepherd's voice and follow him. The word, grace, and faith. He knows his sheep. He calls them by name. His sheep hear his voice. His sheep will not follow another. It is for Jesus to say who his sheep are, and we must not arrogate to ourselves a pretended authority to contradict the Shepherd.

Tom Halvorson