Shepherds and Problems

I spent at least the first twenty-four years of my life in ministry with a ludicrous expectation: that my life--and, more precisely, my ministry and the life of my church--was supposed to go smoothly.

And, corollary to that expectation was another: when everything didn't go smoothly, something was wrong. And, usually, a third and a fourth corollary: it was my fault, and it was my job to fix it.

Now I know better. Most of the time, anyway. Okay, okay, some of the time. Just recently I was reading in Proverbs and came across a verse that made this pastor laugh out loud:
Where there are no oxen,
the stalls are clean;
but much is produced
by the strength of an ox (Proverbs 14:4, CJB).
Where there are no oxen--and no sheep--the stalls are clean. But stalls are supposed to house livestock and therefore they will get dirty. And churches are supposed to be filled with the smell, noise, and mayhem of sheep. That's why we're here.

Eugene Peterson writes:
Every time I move to a new community, I find a church close by and join it--committing myself to worship and work with that company of God's people. I've never been anything but disappointed: every one turns out to be biblical, through and through: murmerers, complainers, the faithless, the inconstant, those plagued with doubt and riddled with sin, boring moralizers, glamorous secularizers. Every once in a while a shaft of blazing beauty seems to break out of nowhere and illuminate these companies, and then I see what my sin-dulled eyes had missed: word of God-shaped, Holy Spirit-created lives of sacrificial humility, incredible courage, heroic virtue, holy praise, joyful suffering, constant prayer, persevering obedience. I see "Christ--for Christ plays in ten thousand places/Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his/To the Father through the features of men's faces" (Leap Over a Wall, p. 101).
So, when our church is in turmoil, and our sheep are hurting, we should not think it strange. Jesus' own leadership team and his extended flock suffered many ups and downs, and all while he was with them! And the churches mentioned in the Bible exhibited both ugliness and beauty, struggle and victory.

There will come a day when our troubles are over--when we "meet on that beautiful shore." But, until then, we will do well to remember that a shepherd without a shepherd without sheep.

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