But Since You Have Appointed Me: Encouragement For Pastors

Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

I have long appreciated the metaphor of the shepherd and his sheep when thinking about the relationship of a pastor to his flock.  You, as a pastor, have been called by the flock to lead and feed them in this high calling of being an under-shepherd.  It is a pretty simple metaphor to conceive of.  As a shepherd you get to proclaim the Law that reveals sin and you get to proclaim the Gospel and administer the Sacraments that edify, absolve and create faith.  Oh the joys of mending wound through the proclaiming the Gospel!  Just think about it, you are called to deliver the timeless truths of the Gospel and to feed the flock that you have been called to!  What a gift and privilege. 

Personally I would love it if the metaphor could just stop here.  It would be a glorious picture if your calling as a pastoral shepherd simply entailed you sitting upon a rock, basking in the sun and smiling down upon your sheep as they rested in the green grass of the Gospel.  However, as you know, things are a bit more complicated than this.  For starters, your calling is one where you are to be a watchman.  Just as God set the prophets of old as watchmen over Israel, you too are placed as a watchman over your flock to be on lookout for ravenous wolves, so that you can protect and keep them.  Surely enough though, pastors like you are many times ready for these attacks.  They are the flock that has been entrusted to you and I am sure that you are willing and ready to fight for the sake of your flock, to fight against wolves.

Even with wolves in our metaphor, the metaphor still ‘works.’  It makes sense.  Provide for the sheep and fight for the sheep!  However, there is a component to this metaphor that we haven’t explored yet.  What happens when your sheep begin to bite?  Yes, I said bite; biting not each other but you!  Ouch, it hurts! The reality my friend is that there are those in the flock that will not obey the Word or yield to God’s message that you deliver. 

As you read this right now, you may be plagued with the reality that some in your flock are resisting and rejecting the Word that you bring to them. To make things even worse, you may be experiencing pain and anguish from a parishioner who not only rejects the word but also bites you as you deliver it.  This puts you in an extremely difficult position.  On the one hand you have the, “commission and charge as a preacher to see to it that no one is misled, so that you may give account of it…”[1]  On the other hand, you have a parishioner that is not yielding to the Word.  It is no wonder why you experience groaning, frustration and pain.  Let me affirm you that these emotional burdens of ministry that you carry, feel and experience are very real even though they often go unnoticed by the average person in your congregation.   Beside the emotional burden, temptation may also arise to adjust the message that you bring in order to alleviate tension with this parishioner, but this would bring pain to your conscience in knowing that you have become unfaithful to the Word.  Temptation may also arise to cast the parishioner from your sight, to write the parishioner off, in order to alleviate the burden; however, this would be grate against your shepherding heart. 

It seems to me at this point of your burdens and pastoral struggles that you are no longer a shepherd but a sheep.  When the temptation of people pleasing sets in, when the heavy burden of ministry presses upon you and when joy has been sucked out of you, take comfort that you no longer have to be a shepherd but are now a sheep.  My friend, you cannot and do not have to carry the weight of the kingdom on your shoulders.  You were not meant to be the Great Shepherd, but an under-shepherd.  In other words, when the weight of ministry becomes too much for you, the good news is that you get to be a sheep of the Great Shepherd, Jesus the Christ.  In the midst of your trials you get to hear, know and receive the Word that says to you that Jesus is “your” Great Shepherd in your time of need.  By the blood of the eternal covenant He has made you complete in everything. 

In Christ our metaphor doesn’t leave you alone, left to fend off wolves and handle the problems of the flock by yourself.  When you are wounded by the attacks of the wolves and the bites of your sheep, you my friend can know and hear that “you belong to Jesus and are buried in His wounds.”   You have not only been called to be a shepherd but you have been baptized into the flock and made a sheep of the Great Shepherd. Christ is your shepherd and is for you and your calling.  In Christ you can know that you get to be His sheep while you shepherd the flock.  God will fight the battles for you; all you need do is rest.       

[1] Martin Luther Paraphrase, The Lutheran Study Bible (CPH Kindle Edition, 2009), Location 145486 of 152107.