Pastors or Professionals

Posted on 01 April 2008

Evangel 18:3 (Autumn 2000)

Pastors or Professionals

Evangel 18:3 (Autumn 2000)

When Isaiah described the LORD, one of the images he used was of one who tends his flock like a shepherd’. He continues, ‘He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them se to his heart; he gently leads those that are with young’ (Isaiah 40:11). It is a graphic picture of one who so identifies in costly love for his flock that he tenderly cares for them where they are, carries those who are young and easily exhausted and cherishes his sheep in their vulnerability and weakness; never burdening them beyond their bearing. He it is, the prophet re-iterates, who will not ‘raise his voice in the streets, break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoking flax’ (42:2,3).

  Unsurprisingly, he who is incarnate God, picks up the same picture to apply to himself: ‘I am the good shepherd’ (John 10:14) and in his life lived out, to the extent of the ultimate in self -abnegation, this picture of costly, involved, caring love.
 
  Then, among the injunctions addressed to leaders in the church, the same word-picture re-emerges, ‘Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care’ (1 Peter 5:2). Thus, he who is, by very nature, a shepherd expects of those who are made in his image (and especially those called to be his underlings) the same self-giving love.
 
  One might, of course, expect the twenty-first century church to know all about the experience of such things; never has the leadership of the church (certainly in the West) been better ‘trained.‘ Courses abound in church leadership and Bible Schools and Theological Colleges, increasingly sensitive to the charge of being ‘hot houses’ where the ‘real world’ is scarcely engaged, are increasingly offering specialisms in pastoral care and applied theology. However, I have a nagging feeling that behind this burgeoning of leaders thrust forth with an arm-load of paper ‘competencies’ there lies a profound failure to match up to this ultimate and fundamental qualification for ministry.
 
  Indeed, sometimes the sheer emphasis on competencies emasculates pastoral carers. Carers are fearful of engaging in support of others because they lack the adequate training. But how did the church nourish the flock of God before this obsession with paper qualifications flooded it from the secular world? How did Jesus cope without an extended course in counselling skills? This is not to deny the value of learning from those with skills and experience outside of our own. It is, however, to say that self-denying love and the willingness to listen and gently care (and to provide ‘truth-re-enforcement’) are fundamental and, very often, all that is really needed.

It is easy, of course, to make excuses and I have heard them often enough; busy-ness in the LORD’s work being a particularly prevalent and super-spiritual reason offered for avoiding the time-consuming task of pastoral care. (In my experience few deep pastoral encounters can be undertaken in less than two hours and that [often] is just the start!) It is also easy to find ‘short cuts’; offering times of prayer-ministry can sometimes be such. Not that prayer is not vital but prayer needs to be used alongside the gentle support of the pastoral carer. Anything else is to renege on the responsibility as shepherds that God has given to us to be involved in the caring and healing process. Prayer within the context of on-going pastoral care seems the most effective means of growth.

Sadly, however, leaders often seem more intent on self-fulfillment and the living out of their own petty dreams for power. This divisive emphasis on authority recognizes that leaders are not to be ‘door-mats’ but fails to note that true biblical, God-given authority is to be seen only in the one who does not cling on to it (remember Philippians 2:5-11!) and whose authority, like that of the husband in Ephesians 5:2 2ff., is used to offer self-denying love and support for the enrichment of others.

And few involved in pastoral work can deny the need! A world of broken homes and marriages, of dysfunctional families, of physical and mental abuse, of profound loneliness and friendlessness (where short-cut exits prove ephemeral solutions), of pain in an environment that tries to deny it and of the agony of oppressive systems means we live in the midst of a situation which longs for the care of a shepherd (or shepherdess!). Moreover, in my experience, ‘victims’ are as present in the church as outside of it!

Of course, pastoral care, by its very nature, is not high-profile; at its best it is probably virtually invisible to the watching world. Here is no ministry that can score ‘brownie points’ and exalt itself to the place of public acclaim.., but then the path our Saviour trod led to the Cross; the crown was awarded only the ‘otherside.‘ Yet surely a true follower of Jesus looks for nothing beyond the ‘Well done, you good and faithful servant. Enter the joy of your LORD.‘

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