So…..What's the Point?

Musings from a Fellow Struggler

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Are Your Church Leaders Doing the Right Thing…Really? (Part 4)

In the last installment (part 3) I noted that the content of John 10 is the fulfillment of Ezekiel 34 about the promise of a shepherd appointed directly by Yahweh. The promise has two parts: the first is David appointed king over Israel and the second is the eternal Good Shepherd, the Messiah that would come through David’s lineage. This promise was made during the failure ofIsrael’s ‘shepherds’ (i.e. political and religious leaders) to take care ofIsrael’s needs. John 10 can be read in a parallel fashion to Ezekiel 34 because many of the same sorts of conditions  in Israel during Ezekiel’s day were being repeated in Jesus’ day. So we see Jesus, the promised Good Shepherd, as the true caretaker of Israel stands against the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees of His day who, among other things, hid God from the people by the onerous requirements placed on them in the name of God.

The point of this article is that an under shepherd, or anyone caring for God’s people, who follows the example of the Good Shepherd will likely suffer personal sacrifice and be placed in harm’s way. Why?-because he stands between the sheep and whatever danger presents itself, from robbers and thieves to wild animals (read false doctrines, false prophets, worldly influences, demonic attacks etc).

Turning to Jesus as our model we see the idea of sacrifice in John 10:15. The flock belongs to the Good Shepherd because He gave His life for it (v11) and did so willingly (vv17-18). Not only is He the Shepherd, then, but He is the Owner of the sheep which puts Him in a unique position unlike any other shepherd. What this means to an ‘under shepherd’ is that sacrifice is part and parcel of true ministry; in extreme cases it might mean death. The needs of the flock come first (including an under shepherds family) so somewhere beneath the church and family come the needs of the under shepherd. This is a tough one because the temptation is ever-present to exploit the flock in order to better one’s ‘position’ monetarily, amongst one’s peers, or denominationally; i.e. climbing the economic and ecclesiastical ladders, so to speak. Embracing this temptation is the quickest route to turn from an under-shepherd to a mere hireling (John 10:11-13)

A hireling is a ‘hired hand’. They don’t own the sheep nor have a vested interest in the sheep except for a job. Their primary concern is their own welfare and well-being. Should the demands of the job threaten either one, the flock is abandoned and scattered. These hirelings are, in my opinion, like professional clergy who have chosen the ministry as a vocation usually because they have an itch to scratch and a congregation is a means to their end; i.e. the congregation is sacrificed for the needs of the hireling rather than the other way around. Jesus says of a hireling that they, especially in the face of danger or adversity, abandon the flock because they don’t care about the sheep (v 13).

Simply put, a true under-shepherd is called by the Good shepherd for the care of His people. Church leaders, then, who are not just hirelings will be intimately involved with their congregations and know where the ‘sheep’ go, what they ‘eat’, what they do for entertainment, what they need (not always what they think they need), what they are reading, watching on television, what trouble they might be getting into etc. Now, this might seem excessively intrusive, nosey even, ‘going above and beyond’, invading privacy and so on. But I think it very possible to know many of these things simply by being ‘with’ the sheep. In other words, under shepherds cannot be isolated or insulated from their flocks hiding behind the guise of ‘other church business’. The business of the church and its pastor are the sheep, plain and simple. And there is simply no way of doing all this properly without a great deal of personal sacrifice.

What about your church leaders? Do they know your name (more on this to come), where you live, who your family members are? Have they ever visited you and yours outside the church? Have they ever sincerely asked about your spiritual welfare, what they can do to guide and encourage you? Are they readily available to you or are they hard to reach, set appointments with, or ‘busy’? And if always busy, busy doing what, exactly?


Are Your Church Leaders Doing the Right Thing…Really? (Part 3)


    1   “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber.

2   “But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep.

3   “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

4   “When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

5   “A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

6   This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them.

7   So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.

8   “All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.

9   “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

10   “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

11   “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

12   “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.

13   “He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.

14   “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me,

15   even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.

16   “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.

17   “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.

18   “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”

John 10:1–18(NASB95)

I thought it helpful to include this section of John to help us understand Jesus as the Good Shepherd and, therefore, what following His example might be like. I’m not going to attempt an exhaustive or concise exposition; that has been done countless times over the centuries anyway. But I do want to at least emphasize some important truths having to do with taking care of our Lord’s flock.

With regard to Ezekiel 34 these words of Jesus fulfill the prophecy that Yahweh Himself would provide a shepherd for Israel that began with David and, by implication, extended to include David’s ‘throne’ eternally occupied by Messiah (Ezek. 34:10-31.

So, it’s worth noting who the sheep are and how they became part of this particular flock. In the simplest of terms, the sheep are Jews and Gentiles (the Gentiles are the ‘other’ flock v.16) and they are one flock because they all entered through the same door, the Door actually, who is Jesus Himself. But He is also the Good Shepherd so the one who enters through the Door (Jesus) becomes part of the flock of the Good Shepherd (Jesus). Psalm 23 then is apropos (written by David, a shepherd) since it describes the care of the Good Shepherd for the ‘sheep of His pasture’.

What comes to mind here is that a pastor is a sort of subsidiary ‘door keeper’ v.3; he/she doesn’t take the place of the Door but insures that the sheep enter through the Door (read 1 Peter 5:1-4; more on this passage to come). What’s more, anyone entering the flock other than through the Door does so purposely to harm the sheep vv1, 10); there are no exceptions given here. All talk about inclusiveness, openness, tolerance, acceptance, moral and epistemological relativism etc. being flung about in theological circles these days are ways around the Door and must be rejected outright by anyone claiming to be a church leader.

The only sheep for which a pastor is responsible, then, are the ones who came through the Door and, upon their entering, his duty is to protect them by insuring no other entrance is possible. Doing this requires at the very least making sure everyone knows, and proclaims, that Jesus Christ alone is the way to God (the Door), that they (the sheep) belong to Jesus (the Good Shepherd v3) and not to a denomination, board of elders, or church leadership.

Protection, being guardians and preparing to fight off interlocutors is a primary function of a true pastor. Making sure the sheep are ‘fenced in’, so to speak, is part of this. Being ‘fenced in’ might seem restrictive and there are some sheep who resist this, even rebel against it (more about the responsibilities of the flock to come). But setting down proper and inviolable parameters, boundaries and the like is necessary for their own protection and under shepherds must know this and be unwavering even if the rebellious sheep happens to be a big giver to the church.

It seems to me that there are a lot of sheep running amok these days, wandering about willy nilly, getting into trouble, malnourished, wounded and in overall bad shape. I know in some cases it’s because they refuse to submit to either the Good Shepherd or an appointed under-shepherd. But when it’s the fault of the church leadership the fences remain untended or gone altogether, then they have forsaken one of their primary duties of maintaining boundaries that keep the flock safe.

In my mind, the only proper boundaries are those given in Scripture which means an under shepherd must be preaching the Word faithfully, consistently and without apology. Given the culture we live in and the disintegrating denominational adherence to the Bible, this can be a daunting task and a threat to the ‘security’ of an under-shepherd (especially their pension, if they have one). It can feel like a target is painted on the backside inviting adversaries to take shots. But, Jesus is our example and He spoke only the words of His father so no mistake could be made about what was expected, needed, and offered to sinful humanity.

Of course, we know what happened because Jesus was faithful and this will be the subject of our next blog.



Are Your Church Leaders Doing the Right Thing…Really? (Part 2)

The part that disturbed me most about Ezekiel’s description of a disintegrated leadership was neglecting and/or abandoning the sheep. It’s not that the wealth part isn’t deplorable; it’s that the failure to feed, heal and serve the sheep is so clearly antithetical to what a true shepherd does and what God called the leaders to do. It was so bad that Yahweh basically fired all the existing leadership and took matters into His own hands. This act inaugurates a plan and a prophecy that begins with David and ends with the eternal reign of the Good Shepherd. But, now that the Good Shepherd has come, why are churches and some leaders so much like Ezekiel’s description?

Well, for one thing, if church leaders as ‘under shepherds’ aren’t following the example or the will of the Good Shepherd, then it’s really no wonder all of this is happening. They are wandering about as lost as the flock they are supposed to be leading. In the name of so-called contemporary necessity ( our society is different than it used to be), churches and church leaders feel compelled to be relevant (we have to respond to these changes) and develop their strategies accordingly. What ends up happening is the church is transformed by the world rather than the other way around.

For example, at least in the churches I’m most familiar with, pastoral work seems based on what I call the “doctor’s office ministry model”. There was a time when if we were sick a doctor would come and visit us at our home. That gradually changed until now we, short of a medical emergency, must make our way to the doctor’s office if, of course, we are able to get an appointment.

Many pastors’ have adopted this method and expect the sheep to come to them if they have a problem. So, we call the church office, talk to a secretary who checks the schedule of the pastor (or an underling) and then makes an appointment. It has to be this way I’ve been told because church leaders are, at least some of them, so busy taking care of multi-site, multi-campus, multi-staff, multi-media mega churches there isn’t time for very much personalized attention. What’s really pathetic is even pastors’ of small churches sometimes never venture out to check on the sheep and see where they actually live, work and play.

Then there’s the ‘supermarket ministry model’. This is a church that creates nearly every conceivable program a person might want or need with the philosophy that ‘if we offer it, they will come’. So, like the ‘doctor’s office’ model, the flock is expected to take the initiative and pick and choose (go shopping so to speak) whichever program they need. And, like a supermarket catering to a wide range of customers, making sure enough ‘brands’ are available for all the different ‘tastes’ is a priority for church leaders. Of course, administrating this kind of approach is time and resource consuming which often insulates church leaders even more from their people.

Another example I call the ‘county fair ministry model’. This one is all about entertainment and offering as many different kinds as possible. The objective is that since even Christian’s need entertainment and since the world is not a good source for the sheep, the church must provide an alternative. So, all kinds of time and resources are used to make the flock feel like they aren’t missing out on the fun by making sure they have something to do, somewhere to go and something to see when at church. Entertainment is the operative word and everything from the worship to the preaching is geared towards this goal. I daresay it’s almost as if the entertainment industries have set the standards for meaningful ministry in Christ’s church.

Now, I don’t think these approaches are inherently wrong; misguided, maybe but not wrong in the sinful sense, unless they become like the descriptions of failed leadership we read about in Ezekiel 34. I do think, however, to be most effective, and insure against the Ezekiel 34 indictments church leaders, and pastors especially, need to model themselves after the Good Shepherd. This probably seems painfully obvious but needs emphasizing given the many temptations leaders face to conform to the world (either by lifestyle or teaching) rather than to the image of Jesus.

In another post coming soon we shall see that following the example of Jesus is much more arduous and self-sacrificing then we might think, not to mention carrying enormous responsibilities with eternal consequences. Most assuredly, being a shepherd of our Lord’s flock, great or small, is a calling, not a profession and those making it a profession are dangerous and to be avoided.


Are Your Church Leaders Doing the Right Thing…Really? (Part 1)

Because once a pastor always a pastor, I’m disturbed (probably in more ways than one!) at the condition many churches and their leaders are in these days. Scandal after scandal, heretical doctrine, illicit lifestyles, self-aggrandizement, mind-boggling wealth at the expense of the mostly non-wealthy, associating numbers with success; and these are just the preachers, not to mention their spouses, their kids, board members, finance directors, musicians etc. I’m also disturbed by the effect all of this has on our Christian witness to the world-at-large. But, this is nothing new; similar leadership degradation happened to Israel and Ezekiel 34 (please read before continuing) describes what Israel’s shepherds did that brought them under God’s judgment and how the problem was solved.

You’ll notice the very first indictment is they used material and monetary resources reserved for the flock, and from the flock, to insure their own personal security and plenty; they became exceedingly fat while the sheep became skinny. Making this number one suggests it is particularly irritating to God (putting it mildly). Next, because of this inordinate self-preoccupation they lost track of the sheep and didn’t bother to go after those who either wandered away (the Hebrew word suggests ‘scared off’) or seek after those who became lost altogether (literally ‘perishing’). Furthermore, they failed to take care of the weak (malnourished), provide healing to the sick and bind up the broken (alludes to treating wounds caused by wolves). Finally, they ruled the remaining sheep (the ones not scared off or not yet dead from neglect) with force and cruelty.

Now, we fast forward to 2012. We can see the ‘personal gain’ part by the luxurious and over-the-top lifestyle’s of many ‘leaders’ prominent on certain television programs. The neglect part is evidenced by malnourished sheep (read Bible and theological ignorance) further exacerbated by inept, weak and sometimes even false teachings delivered from the pulpit (or music stand, or stool, overhead projector, movie screens etc.) Failure to make sure the sheep are safe from harm follows the misguided thinking that success is measured by the number of sheep in the flock; too many sheep overwhelms the leader’s ability (or desire) to take care of them all.

The ‘force and cruelty’ is a bit more subtle and is very often disguised by ecclesiastical authority (the minister/laity distinction or the so-called ‘Moses’ model of ministry are examples) and tricking the sheep into thinking they exist for the sake of the shepherd instead of the other way around. Using the force of guilt to manipulate a flock into supporting dubious, self-serving programs is one quite effective example. This works by appealing to loyalty for the shepherd (“I’m your loyal pastor so help me out here”), or by using the Bible to coerce some kind of behavior, usually about giving money (“…give to this ministry and God will give back to you even more”). The sheep feel bad if they don’t respond as directed or, much worse, might even feel they’re letting God down and this is just plain cruel.

If any of the above is happening to you or the flock you’re part of at least consider confronting the leadership or find a safe haven somewhere else. Blind loyalty to a person, persons or denomination just because of some ‘past’ good old days or long-standing history isn’t going to cut it because we are in the last days and the kind of ecclesiastical disintegration we are witnessing is a precursor, and contributor, to the great apostasy I think is already beginning (2 Thess. 2:1-3).

Living on the Edge

When we think of someone ‘living on the edge’ we usually mean a thrill seeker who takes risks most of us would not. For the more reserved among us, we might think these people foolhardy while secretly envying and admiring their daredevil antics. Others see them as role models and then try to duplicate or exceed whatever stunts that made them famous.  Ah, yes…fame. That’s a powerful motivation for ‘living on the edge’; to go somewhere, or do something, that no one else has and then, at the very least, be featured on YouTube or Facebook.

But what if living on the edge was not that extraordinary, even if it encompassed the universe itself, but was merely an entry point into something far greater, beyond imagining even, and when once entered, never ended but only grew larger?  What if creation itself, the seen and the unseen, is just a kingdom’s furthest outpost bearing the symbol of ownership by a King whose ways are beyond finding out?


Job 26:14(for the best result, read vv1-13)

 14    Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways,

And how small a whisper we hear of Him!

But the thunder of His power who can understand?”


This is where Christians live, on the edges of His ways and since the edges of God’s ways are beyond imagining, what must the inner circles be like? Well, we’ve been invited to explore this land by its King, even become its citizens. But, what if this land is wild and untamed, even dangerous and requires that we ‘change our ways’ to adapt even more than we already have? What if once deeper in this realm, we can’t turn back or the King requires even more from us? Fearing this vast Unknown many ignore the invitation and chose to remain amongst familiar surroundings and serve a rather domesticated God, a God who is no threat to them. They have Him safely and securely tucked away where He can be called upon when needed but otherwise doesn’t interfere with their affairs; unless, of course, He wants to bless them, which suits them fine.

And Indeed He does for without His blessing we would all, saints and sinners alike, be reduced to ashes. But according to some prominent preachers blessing us is all He wants to do, to enlarge us, prosper us, and insure our happiness. These preachers are a bit like Job’s comforters who waxed eloquent about God’s nature, His will and His ways but didn’t really know what they were talking about; these preachers, much like Job’s comforters, personify the theologically challenged and are, in fact, dangerous.

In Job 26 Job gives a litany of God’s great power and His ways in creation as a rebuke to his comforters declaring that in the end whatever we know of God is only the tiniest part of something bigger than we can grasp. We should, then, speak with humility, not pride or arrogance, for we know only the edges of His ways. Even His word to us is only a slight whisper, or a faint echo, and if a whisper is beyond our capacity to fully comprehend, what, then, of His thunder? The few times Israel heard God’s voice like thunder it struck so much fear in their hearts that they recoiled from His presence and sought the protection of Moses.

So, what’s the point?  If we are going to speak about God we must speak with a great deal of humility and we must, as much as is possible, know Whom we’re talking about. The first requires a strong sense of our finitude and the second an ever-expanding theological acumen.  Neither of these will happen apart from first acknowledging that He of Whom we speak is beyond finding out yet desires we know Him and, second, daring to leave the edges of His ways to pursue Him as the deer does the water brook “in a dry and thirsty land” going ever further in and farther up and never looking back. For us, then, the real risk is not living on the edge like our daredevil friends, but living in the depths of God (‘exploring the land’ mentioned earlier) where our hubris is diminished so He can fill us with Himself Who is all wisdom, knowledge, glory and power. Living like this may never get us into Facebook or Youtube but our names will be listed in the Lamb’s Book of Life.



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