December 5, 2020

I Am a Pastor

By Chaplain Mike

I wrote this many years ago, while on a mission trip in India. I used it to teach children about what a pastor is and does.

Over the years, I’ve come back to it many times. Its simple words reminded me of God’s calling.

Perhaps, on this Monday morning, it can be of encouragement to those who share the pastoral call.

“Be shepherds of the flock of God.” (Acts 20:28)

I am a pastor …

If you would ask me who I am, I would answer, “a pastor.”

To be a pastor means to be a shepherd.

To be a shepherd means to care for sheep …

to attend to their births,

to cleanse and groom them, to see that they are well fed,

to tend to them when they are hurt or sick,

to go ahead of them, seeking clean sources of food and water, to rescue them from difficulties,

to guard them from predators and fight off attackers; to seek and find them when they wander off,

to provide a calming presence when they are in frightening situations,

to move them out of the comfort of sheepfold at times, and lead them out to open places,

to gather them together again and lead them back to their warm, familiar home,

to understand the unique characteristics of each sheep — where each one is weak and where each is strong — so that I might give the entire flock wise and sensitive care.

to set them on their feet again when they fall and cannot right themselves; to put up and maintain fences that will keep them from going astray,

to see to their health and bring them to maturity, so that they can reproduce and bring forth lambs,

to help them adapt to and flourish the different seasons and circumstances of life,

to remember, mourn and bury them when they die.

I am a pastor. I take care of sheep.

In return, they nourish me, warm me, and keep me company on bright days and through dark nights.

They are my friends.

With them, I follow a greater Shepherd, who does all this and more for me as well as them. He equips me to serve them as his under-shepherd, and he rewards me generously.

I do what I do for his pleasure and for the increase of his honor.

He is my Shepherd, and in him I have no wants.


  1. I wish all pastors remembered this.

  2. kenneth gallagher says

    Chaplain mike,

    Nice! The dual meaning for both the physical and spiritual realm is mighty in its simplicity. Thanks again.

    Regards and blessings,

  3. B. L. Zebub. says

    I’ve never liked the “sheep” analogy. Aside from all the obvious problems with sheep-like behavior, and the ultimate fate of sheep, it elevates the clergy literally into a differnet kind of animal. It suggests that the role of clergy is to tell the congregation what to do. No wonder so many people feel “called” to be pastors rather than pastured. (“That way people have to respect MY opinions rather than vice versa. Plus they pay me.”)

    • We who accept the authority of Scripture don’t get to pick and choose our metaphors.

      • But we can’t simply take metaphors unquestioningly and unexaminedly.

        For instance, when YHWH is referred to as a Rock, we don’t take this to mean that YHWH is unfeeling and hard and unable to be changed in His attitudes or behavior. There are aspects of rockness that the metaphor is meant to convey, but there are also aspects of rockness that are certainly NOT to be assumed or believed about YHWH by calling YHWH a Rock.

        Thus, when it comes to the shepherd/flock metaphor, what aspects of this are we to take and what aspects are we to discard? What aspects are we to apply literally and continually, and what aspects are we only to think about but not make concrete in our life and practice?

        • Right. And you did. Perhaps my question leapfrogged a bit. You applied many of the tasks/duties/responsibilities of a shepherd to the function of church pastor. I guess I’m asking/raising two questions: 1. To what extent are the particulars of what a shepherd does to be grafted onto the church pastor’s role – i.e., what and how much of the metaphor does God want to transfer? and 2. Is shepherd/sheep a required paradigm or the right paradigm for 21st-century American Christians and churches?

          • Eric, I think the point of my post was to detail what I understand the responsibilities of a shepherd to be.

            • And the word pastor means shepherd.

            • Chaplain Mike:

              Judging by your patience in responding to me, you have a pastor’s heart.

              I know I don’t. God bless you in what you do.

              • Eric, you’re fine, and you ask some good questions. In this post, however, I think the point of the metaphor is clear, and transferable to our cultural setting. After all, Psalm 23 still speaks to us about God’s care for our lives. And we respond to Jesus’ words in John 10 the same way. The same kind of personal, loving attention is what the metaphor requires of those in pastoral leadership.

      • Yes, at least not the ‘from ‘Scripture’ ones…..which is why some cut and paste others they like from Ophrah magazine, and avoid the biblical ones. The sheep analogy does carry some sting to it: sheep just are not all that bright (neither are we) and are high maintenance (so are we) and quite often don’t smell so great (dare I go there….???)

        I’m with Chap Mike: this goes beyond culture and speaks to folks of any era, any background, any strata…’s the way we are.

        • greg r:

          Your reply assumes that the “not bright” and “high maintenance” and “stinky” aspects of sheep and shepherding are, or are among, the things that God and Scripture want to convey by using the shepherd/sheep metaphor.

          Can you show where in Scripture it’s quite clear that these aspects of sheep and shepherding are the reason Scripture uses this metaphor as opposed to other metaphors or examples of Israel’s or our stupidity or neediness or foulness?

          • Like Mike said earlier, we cannot pick and choose our metaphors:

            15When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
            “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
            Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
            16Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
            He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
            Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

            17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
            Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

            Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. -John 21:15-17

          • But what parts of each of the metaphors are we to pick and choose? After all, the point of a metaphor is to convey the meaning behind the metaphor. Even Jesus’ language to Peter is metaphorical. When He tells him to feed his lambs, is he telling Peter to be a cook or a waiter? A wetnurse? How does a shepherd feed the lambs? Does he hold them in his hands and bottlefeed them? Does he take them to safe places and let them graze? How far and in what ways are we to take and apply metaphors, and how are we today to take and apply anachronistic or inapplicable-to-us metaphors?

          • working on it….. I’ll post back

        • The sheep analogy carries some sting, but I think humans are much closer to wolves than sheep. We like to get into packs, run free, and kill easily. Wolves are probably nicer to each other than we are.

          The image of a pastor lovingly caring for his sheep is the very root of “pastoral,” and that can’t be escaped. But really it’s a bunch of sheep with sharp teeth who are always thinking about ways to conquer the sheep next pasture over.

    • Lord of the Flies,
      I’m going to guess from your name you are playing a bit of devil’s advocate here.
      Anyway, I have had those thoughts myself at times. People generally don’t like to be compared to sheep. But it is the analogy that God uses. And the final end out of sight, there is a point here. Shepherds do more often than not care deeply for their sheep. And from a pastoral perspective you begin to understand that analogy a bit better.

    • I have owned and cared for sheep!
      I feel blessed to have had that experience—–sheep are WONDERFUL creatures—–

      Predators killed my sheep——
      I was not a very good shepherd—–my sheep deserved better—–

      This is why (in part) I am SO grateful for the GOOD shepherds in my life—–
      And the best and PERFECT shepherd I have in Jesus——

      I am a sheep, I have shepherds, I have THE shepherd—–I AM a shepherd to others—–
      It makes sense to me
      but then again—–
      I HAD sheep——–

    • B.L.

      I agree with you the metaphor of the shepherd and sheep probably made a lot more sense to the Mideastern world 2000 years ago than it does to us today. Chaplain Mike, I respectfully suggest that your response that we don’t “get to pick and choose our metaphors” misses the point.

      The shepherd-sheep analogy is sometimes misused in the modern, evangelical church. It becomes a method of church management that tells the congregation to not think too hard about church decisions. It becomes a way of telling the congregation, often just as educated and spiritual as the pastor, to suspend the same critical thinking that they use in their professions and to simply trust the “shepherd”, usually the senior pastor and elders because of the position they hold.

      We all know that the word “pastor” is used once in the Scriptures. The metaphor is not fleshed out by any detailed job description. Chaplain Mike, I have seen enough of your posts to suspect that you are the real deal, a real pastor, someone who takes the role of the shepherd seriously. God bless you for that.

      In my experience, many modern, evangelical pastors are more similar to CEO’s than shepherds. I realize that this is just a metaphor and there is a danger in interpeting it in too literal a manner. Since I can’t choose my metaphor, I won’t say that I don’t like the metaphor. I don’t like the way it is often used in our churches.

      • I would certainly agree with you on the misuse of the term, Tom. I hope that my post explains in detail what I mean when I say, “pastor.”

  4. Jo Ann Peterson says

    Beautiful Chaplain Mike. I’m not a pastor, but I am a sheep. Thank you for your faithfulness. You are a special kind of pastor…being a hospice chaplain.

  5. Jonathan M says

    I like the concept of under-shepherd. Keeping this in mind helps to humble pastors and remind us that as we shepherd our flock, we too are in need of shepherding.

  6. Ekstasis says

    “to seek and find them when they wander off,”

    Can anyone comment on their experience with this? Say you leave a church or small group fellowship or whatever, do others follow up and ask why you have left, keep in touch, etc? My experience has been very discouraging.

    • sarahmorgan says

      To me, your discouraging experience is normal…it has happened to me twice in the last 5 years…when people don’t know what’s going on (i.e., why you left), they assume it was your own fault/decision, and they don’t want to deal with your problems…sometimes they personalize it (“they must’ve left because they don’t like me”) and use that as a rationalization to leave you alone.
      It is a sacrifice of time (with the potential of rejection) to check up on someone who has vanished from church, and evangelical churches do not teach their people how to be Christ-like out of their comfort zones (or even, in some cases, in their comfort zones).
      If you haven’t acquired a copy of Michael Spencer’s book yet, consider it…there are encouraging words in it for people who’ve had that experience.

    • We stopped going to our church over the winter, and although we have seen some of the people since then around our small town and they have been friendly, no one has asked about it. It is a little weird b/c we were pretty active and hosted a lot of events at our house. But there has not been one phone call or email to address why we’re not there. Don’t know why, b/c as far as we know, there were no hard feelings of any sort and nothing “happened”.

      Maybe they just figure if you want to come, you’ll come, and if you don’t, that’s okay, too?

      We are still looking for something that will work for both of us, but we may have to drive a bit.

      • And, yeah, btw, Michael’s book is like it was written straight to us (and I know many millions of people have struggled in the same way, but that’s how applicable it is for us) and we are encouraged by it.

      • Savannah,

        Over time in your comments, you’ve let drop enough information for me to figure out that you live in the same city I live in and which church you used to go go (one that starts with “X”). I even attended that church for a short time many years ago.

        I remember that you mentioned trying to study a Tim Keller book with your small group recently, and ran into resistance that surprised you in a bad way. Based entirely on that, and since you say you are looking for a church, I will mention that the PCA on the east side of town (suburb that starts with G, kinda near the airport) is very friendly towards Tim Keller’s thought and approach. Lots of Tim Keller material used in small groups, etc. I landed there in desperation after being at a wanna be megachurch neck deep in the evangelical circus and found much more substance, a refreshing lack of the evangelical circus, and a liturgy that was an understandable starting place for someone like me with an evangelical background. (although, in a perfect world, I might be inclined to go further towards the liturgical traditions now).

        Now … having been there several years, I will also say it is far from a perfect church, and there are some things about Reformed/PCA that are now bugging me more than I thought they would. If you ever do stop by on a Sunday, I’m the “Carol” who is on the team that helps lead the singing. Look me up, and I’ll tell anything you want to know about my views on the good and the bad.

        • Savannah says

          Thanks, Carol, for your interest and your kind recommendation. I’m not sure we would work out too well in a PCA church, as we are both very committed egalitarians (I may have an inaccurate view of PCA churches in this regard, and if I do, please feel free to correct me).

          We still like “X” a lot, and still intermittently attend their Sunday morning services (not the local one), and it’s not hard to find quality teaching, but are no longer attending the home element, which is the central element in this particular church, so fellowship is lacking. I miss the people a lot, and I don’t believe that they haven’t contacted us out of any plan not to, but maybe everyone else assumes that someone else has. I’m sure that happens a lot in many different churches. It’s really not something we dwell upon or are upset about; I just mentioned it b/c it came up in the discussion here.

          Thanks again!

          • The role of women in congregational life is one of the areas that bothers me much more than I thought it would. Going in, I thought I could work within a complementarian church leadership framework, even if I didn’t agree with it. And the leadership of this church doesn’t make a big deal about complementarianism – I’ve never heard anything about gender roles or complementarianism officially taught. But, after several years, I see an attitude of many women in the congregation towards themselves and an attitude of a few men in the congregation towards women that I find very disturbing and which I think goes way beyond anything specifically in the Bible. It is something that is an undercurrent in the congregation rather than anything out in the open – one of those things where I sometimes doubt myself on whether I’m really seeing/hearing what I think I’m seeing/hearing – but it would have been the top problem area that I would have mentioned to you.

            Ah, let’s see, trying to drag this comment back to the onto topic:

            “A shepherd thinks both ewes and rams are important to the flock. If rams are bullying the ewes, or if ewes are bullying the rams, he doesn’t turn a blind eye.”

    • I also think your experience is, unfortunately, the norm.

      The church we are going to now is sort of our last attempt to connect with church, at least in the evangelical realm. We haven’t been in well over a month because every weekend has been consumed with transitioning my aging mother, who livest two hours away, to assisted living and all the related logistics. No pastoral or other contact from anyone at the church to ask what’s up in our lives or why we aren’t there.

      The last church we left before joining this one was also the same story. We’d been there about six years and even taught a SS class.

    • The divide on this at my church seems to be membership. If you are not a member your friends will check on you, but membership brings a commitment from the church to follow up with you if you disappeared for more than a few weeks. It also guarantees that there is some decent filed contact information for you, which makes it more possible. We also invite all the historical members to a reunion now and again, whether it is another church or another state they moved to.

  7. I wonder how relevant the pastor/shepherd analogy and function is to the church in our culture and society? I.e., to what extent is the Biblical imagery and application an outgrowth of its having arisen in an agrarian and nomadic culture and not necessarily the mandatory or required or best way to “do church” in the industrial West? As for its importation into and use in the New Testament, it’s true that Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd, but He was rooting this in the OT usage of shepherd by Israel’s God and prophets to make a point about Himself. To what extent is Paul’s referring to the leaders as those who are to pastor their flocks/God’s flock a residue of this OT imagery and language, as opposed to a pattern and paradigm that is to fit and structure the church in all times and ages and societies?

    Just askin’.

    • IMO, it’s a metaphor that transcends culture.

    • Eric,
      There is perhaps a bit of a problem here as people are perhaps more and more detached from the farm.
      Yet, I imagine God knew what he was doing when he called the people he called to be his people, set them up in an agrarian society, and had the word of God inform them there, and be written among them.
      And I would be hard pressed to even think of one industrial metaphor that would come close to doing justice as a description of the church.
      I think the greater problem is people thinking things are so different today that they abandon scripture when thinking about how to go about “doing church.” and they aren’t any different at all. And when these books and metaphors were written people were already becoming detached from farm life, there were cities in the Old Testament too, and people who had very little of anything to do with agriculture and raising sheep.
      Yet, the metaphors tug at our souls even today, with very little explanation. They are the basis for much of western poetry and art. The idyll would not be the Idyll if it were about industrial society from which everyone wants a break.

      • But we don’t even have a tribal or extended family mentality or lifestyle anymore, let alone an agrarian shepherd&flock one.

        If all that can be said is “IMO” or “I imagine” re: the assuredness of the continuing validity and applicability of the shepherd/flock imagery, maybe it’s not such an unfixed thing?

        • It comes down to your view of Scripture. What would you have us do with this metaphor?

          • I don’t know. The question never occurred to me before today – i.e., whether the shepherd/flock imagery/metaphor is unfixed and unchangeable re: church structure and patterning.

            Surely someone somewhere has written a monograph or dissertation on this, if not a book.

          • Hi Mike,

            I don’t think it really has to do with the view of scripture. Not all metaphors used in scripture work in all times in all places. My grandfather (who translated the Bible into Bemba – one of the primary languages of Zambia) asked once, “How do you translate ‘behold I stand at the door and knock’, when you are in a society that doesn’t have doors and doesn’t knock?” The purpose of a metaphor is to take a difficult concept and put it into culturally relevant terms that your audience can understand and to which they can relate. If the society changes, then maybe the metaphor changes, even though we would both acknowledge that the underlying truth remains the same.

          • I take your point Michael, but I think the way the question was being asked was growing out of a particlar understanding of the Bible.

    • I think the metaphor is every bit as relevant as Psalm 23. Several books have been written about the shepherd’s dedication as described in Psalm 23. Obviously any pastor who desires a Jesus-shaped ministry should strive to be a shepherd.

      To be a shepherd, to help mentor more shepherds, you need the sheep metaphor. The shepherd metaphor makes no sense without the sheep metaphor.

      • Sheep need lots of care. Sheep get injured and lost and they stray off into dangerous places. This is why the shepherd is with them and guides them.

        When we reject sheep as a metaphor, we are saying we do not need a shepherd. We can do it all on our own.

        I know that I can’t do it on my own. I need Our Great Shepherd who found me and brought me safely back when I didn’t even know I was lost.

        We need earthly shepherds who are physically there to tend to physical and emotional wounds. Most of us really are confused and wounded sheep on occasion.

      • So, in Texas and Oklahoma, would “cowboy” and “cattle” work instead of “shepherd” and “sheep”?

        • Nope. Cattle are more ornery, and a ram is a lot less likely to kill you than a bull. “Calf of God, you take away the sin of the world”? I don’t think so.

          • Whew, sheep are the most ornery things I’ve ever dealt with. Goats are delightful, cooperative, gentle, and obedient animals. My animal husbandry experience is causing me to look at the Bible verses again.

          • cermak_rd says

            Plus there’s that whole golden calf thing to deal with.

  8. get a grip people – it’s a metaphor. Metaphors are not exact representations, nor do they hold true in all characteristics.

    From the almighty wiki A common definition of a metaphor can be described as a comparison that shows how two things that are not alike in most ways are similar in another important way.

  9. dac,

    Thank you. I have never been a mouse or a cat, but I still get the gist of Tom and Jerry.

  10. I thought one complaint so many of us have with the present day church in America is that so many preachers DO NOT view themselves as shepherds. They are celebrity wannabes mostly interested in a staring role in Sunday morning productions, or seeking a new ego-boost from the latest building project.

    Surely it must be some other person’s job to sit in the mud and tediously pick brambles from injured sheep.

    • Surely it must be some other person’s job to sit in the mud and tediously pick brambles from injured sheep.

      For most ev. churches, the “others’ would be:

      1) support groups, often specialized

      2) prayer ministries

      3)counseling within and without the church, and I’m guessing that counseling within the church (by liscenced counselors) is on the downhill slide due to $$$ concerns, and liability reasons, and perhaps a theology that says “prayer does it better”

      4) ministry within home groups

      I wouldn’t have a problem with ANY of these doing pastoral work IF the head guy/woman were ALSO modeling what this looks like during the week. As it is, the view is often “that’s not my calling and/or gifting…… I’m called to teach and administer”.

  11. David Cornwell says

    The older I get the more I like the “sheep” metaphor. Just look at the state of the church with all it’s divisions and controversies. We can settle very few things ourselves and are always convinced that our position is the correct one. We wander to and fro like we are lost. We run off in one direction, then the other. Only when we have our eye on the shepherd do we find our way.

    The good under-shepherd helps point the way to Him. The good under shepherd is a humble servant, not a power driven competitor with the Shepherd.

  12. “I do what I do for his pleasure and for the increase of his honor.

    He is my Shepherd, and in him I have no wants.”

    Amen, Mike! A huge responsibility, but so very needed today.


  13. The old pastoral imagery doesn’t work in today’s church marketing/growth model, simply because customers are not people; they are an “it”. They are a demographic. They are a target audience. They are a unreached market. Such objects are given other objects – products and services (teaching materials, worship services, entertainment, seminars, etc). The pastor himself has also become an “it” – an office position, a position on the church organizational chart, a businessman shuffling assets. An God Himself, in the context of moralistic-therapeutic deism has also become an “it”. To borrow from Buber, the I-Thou relationship has been lost. The imagery of a shepherd and his beloved sheep has simply been replaced with that of a feedlot: mass herds of meaningless animals fed from train cars, and shipped off to automated slaughter houses. The church has degraded into Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”.

    God didn’t send us a product – a book, a program, a teaching series, an “it”; rather, He sent us his only begotten Son. God does not see us as an “it”; but as his precious and beloved creation, in whose personal image we have been created. Why? Because God is not an “it”. He is personal and desires a personal relationship with us. I think once we try to base that relationship on our own wills and agendas, then God becomes an object, a means-to-an-end, an “it”; and so do we.

  14. This is the proposed “new model” for “leadership” in the church by a pastor:

    “What if many don’t think the pastor is capable of leading the church (through this process)?

    There is no doubt that some pastors lack the basic skills to lead a congregation. However, most pastors have simply not been given the chance or the training to lead [sic] The traditional structure of our churches give conflicting directions to the pastor. While there has always been an expectation that the senior pastor would lead the church, there has also been a fear of the senior pastor “taking over” the church. This has resulted in many pastors being blamed for the condition of their church, yet not having authority to make needed changes. The accountable leader model recognizes the senior pastor as the leader of the church, it empowers him to lead, and holds him accountable for his leadership. Some pastors will require training to grow-up into this model. Some pastors will require time and patience to learn the fine art of leadership. Some pastors won’t be able to make the transition. You and your congregation need to be in prayer for your pastor. Your congregation will be greatly blessed through his successful transition. Trust in the checks and balances of the accountable leader model. Should the pastor struggle with the change, the coach will be there to encourage and direct and, when needed, say the hard words that need to be shared.” (from TCN)

    This is very sad. The churches I have grown up in have had wonderful shepher/pastors. They were available by phone or in person during high times of family or personal stressful situations. To give comfort, wise words, and prayer. I see this changing. To the point that I am not confident to contact my pastor because of the time he is investing in “church-growth.” I believe people should have consideration of a pastor’s time and not try to use it for trivial matters. But someone needs to have direct contact with the people. Either the pastor, an associate, or someone trained that is available for the congregation to call for help. It is truly getting confusing these days. And, instead of “church growth,” I believe we will actually lose people because they can’t get personal spiritual care.

    I wish for the “old days” sometimes. All change is definately not always for the good.

  15. Acts 2:41 – “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

    The Pastor as Shepherd model works for up to about 150 people. Beyond that people fall through the cracks. The median church size in the U.S. is 75. Which means this model works for over half the churches. However, half of the Christians in the U.S. are in Churches over 400. You can’t call everyone by name when you have over 400 in your congregation. The disciples with their church of over 3000 recognized this, and appointed others to assist in the caring.

    • Of the three congregations I attended, the smallest was 400+ members. Maybe the pastors overdid themselves, I don’t know. They all did know their people’s names. All of the pastors were older, and were trained differently than the pastors are being trained today. I agree that lay-people should also be trained (by the pastor, if need be) to help with visiting chores of the congregation. Most congregations can’t afford a lot of paid staff.

      The New Testament churches were “house churches.” There is probably a good reason for that. I wonder why we evolved over 2000 years to “cathedral” models? And why, now, we are moving into a “preferred” mega-church model? It certainly wasn’t from the example of Jesus’ ministry.

      I have attended mega-churches, and mega-church wannabees. When I leave there I feel no more “blessed” than if I would have stayed home and watched church on TV or read the Bible or a devotional book. A true church should make you understand you are not alone.

      I was a church secretary. The pastor chose me, he said, because I had a lot of good relationships in the congregation. Not only because I could operate the typewriter. He wanted someone in the office who could be of some assistance to people who called the office if he was unavailable. Either I could pass the message on, personally help or I could find someone who could. This was one of my favorite “jobs.” He also trained his elders to minister to their designated people. Find ministry-minded people and train them to be under-shepherds.

    • I don’t quite follow your logic here, Michael. Just because others are (rightly) called in to assist, does mean the model no longer works, or does it mean we simply have more than one shepherd ?? With Christ as the Head Shepherd, there is always more than one in the mix anyway, whether the church is 5 or 5,000. You may not be able to call everyone by name when the church is in the multiple 100’s but you should know many dozens by name, and train others to do likewise, that looks like being a shepherd to me.

      • Sure, as long as model can be upsized. But from your description we now have Pastor as trainer/facilitator, which would certainly take away from the sheep keeping duties.

        • I would simply argue that anyone who bears the name “Pastor” should be involved to some degree in pastoral care ministry. If he/she is not, the title should be changed to reflect another vocation. I will be doing a post later on Peter. Though by “job description,” he was an apostle who served on an episcopal level, he still saw the nature of his calling as “tending the sheep,” and he cared for people in individual, pastoral ways.

        • to Michael Bell: take away from, but not REPLACE; sure, a larger church will mean more administrative stuff, but I think Eugene Peterson’s point about “running a church” taking the place (incorrectly) of doing the work of a pastor stands. In this impersonal age, we need examples of “God with skin on HIM……” That doesn’t mean the pastor is the only one doing this, or even (gasp) that they are the BEST in that congregation at doing this….but an example nonetheless…..or change your title.

          To Chap Mike: imagine an angel of God going around in the dead of the night and changing the title plates on desks/doors to reflect what folks REALLY do in their jobs…..of course I’d be in trouble, cuz mine would read IMONK BLOGGER………ooops…

  16. Even more common in scripture than the shepherd-sheep and other agricultural metaphors for the church are those that use family relationships to describe how we as the church should relate to one another and to Christ. Without opening the can of worms of whether or not the church should be or was originally intended to be an institution — I will say that scripture makes it undeniably clear that the church was meant to be family-like in its character and relationships. And I think that one reason that the personal touch of true pastorship is fading from many churches is that the house (the facilities, organizational structures, finances, and production and style of worship services) has been allotted far more importance and focus than the family living in it. I think it’s gotten to the point that many church leaders don’t even view their congregations as spiritual family at all — but rather as expendable and replaceable components of a well-oiled machine. And, at the same time, church congregations are more and more becoming once-or-twice-a-week gatherings of total strangers — more akin to a random crowd at a movie theater than a family or interconnected body.
    Jesus established and launched His church by giving of Himself to the church in the context of close, sustained relationships with individual human beings. And if that kind of person-to-person investment and relationship has now become unnecessary and obsolete in modern churchianity, then I fear the church has ceased to be the church.

  17. “to remember, mourn and bury them when they die.”

    My thoughts on this topic are unformed at this point, but I thought I would try to write something because Chaplain Mike, as a hospice chaplain, might have more formed thoughts, or at least a place of better perspective. Maybe an idea for a future post…

    My elderly grandmother moved several states away from where she had spent most of her life and where her husband was buried to live in assisted living near my parents. When she died many years later, she was buried back in her home state next to her husband, which means there was no church/pastor in the area who had any knowledge of her. My father arranged a small burial service himself.

    My maiden great-aunt lived in the same house in the same small town for over a hundred years before she died in the house where she was born. For decades and decades she was an active member of the same small town church. But her body and mental faculties failed her for the last 10 to 20 years of her life, so by the time she died, there was no church or pastor who had had any contact with her for many years. Some relative arranged a small burial service without clergy/church involvement.

    My parents are now elderly. They brought my brother and I up in the church, but have not attended themselves in many years … early casualties of the church-growth movement, really. The neurologist told my father that his symptoms might be early Alzheimer’s at the same time that their long-time church got the church-growth bug, decided all pastoral ministry would be done through small groups, and that all small groups would be studying stuff like Purpose-Drive Life. Alzheimer’s and Purpose-Drive Life don’t really mix too well, you know? They tried one other church, but someone in that church found out that my father had spent his career as a professor in an area of biology, launched into him about Young Earth Creationism and how study of biology was … well, need I continue? And that was that. One mother is now hostile towards the church, so there will be no clergy or church anywhere near either of their funerals.

    My parents and I currently live in different states, although that may change. I attend church, but … well, I’m an internet monk reader, so you can extrapolate that my status within the church is rather precarious. I have a chronic medical condition and have had bad experiences being in a fragile state and seeking help from clergy, so I have grave doubts about seeking/actually receiving any practical assistance when one of my parent dies, I’m grieving, and I need to be the one to deal with the immediate situation.

    It certainly looks now like I will have to be the one to deal with wrapping up my parent’s life for family and friends when one of them dies. My parents and I have discussed their wishes, but that’s still a far cry from being in new grief and actually doing the logistics and coming up with exact words during a ceremony. I haven’t even actually been to all that many funerals/memorial services/burials. Honestly, I have my doubts that I have it in me to deal with the after-death logistics of a parent – although it will have to be done. It is one of those dark thoughts that haunts me at 3am when I can’t sleep.

    The Boar’s Head Tavern guys had a discussion on how many funerals the clergy among them had done a few months back. I was really surprised that, except for a couple clergy in rural or mainline settings, most of them had done a very tiny number of funerals. Even if I did approach clergy for advice, I’m not sure many of them have much more experience that I would (especially with the “the deceased lives in a state a plane ride away and will be buried there” twist.)

    Chaplain Mike has mentioned doing many, many funerals as a hospice chaplain. That indicates a lot of people not turning to church/church-staff-clergy for one reason or another. But, Chaplain Mike, I assume most of those people died after being in hospice … there are a lot of non-hospice deaths out there too… What are those families doing?

    Is my family unusual in that clergy have been uninvolved/out of the picture for a long time by the time someone dies? Or is this an undiscussed side effect of the change in church culture over the last decades? Or is this more a change in the bigger overall culture? Am I wishing for specifically Christian/spiritual/pastoral support and help? Or am just wishing for a culture of bygone days (did it ever really exist?) that had specific traditions and rituals and roles that would save having to make so many decisions during a time of new grief?

    • David Cornwell says

      Becky, thanks for this post. My observations after spending 20 years in the pastoral ministry are much the same as yours. Many people have a funeral conducted by a person who offers very little in the way of pastoral care. The person enters the picture out of context and comes with some sort of standard funeral preparation, conducts the service, and that is basically it. Sometimes people are hesitant to call their pastor because the pastor has failed to minister to the family or the person. Or people have drifted from the church because of a variety of reasons and now don’t have a connection.

      When hospice is involved there is a very good chance the person has received good care from the chaplain, and he/she is asked to conduct the service. One of the most meaningful services I ever attended was conducted by such a chaplain. He had been there for the sick individual and the family and there was a real bond.

      Other people ask around to friends and relatives and find a pastor that might do this good work. And some pastors who enter the scene at this late date often do a very good job considering the circumstances. Funeral homes have a list of pastors who can be called to conduct a service.

      A lot of the best care comes from pastors of small congregations who have a real heart for the people. These pastors are loved because they have loved the flock.

      Meeting and listening to the family, even if one does not know them well, is very important. People will talk, tell stories, cry, and laugh. The pastor must listen at this time, ask simple questions, listen some more, and pray with the people. A pastor does not have to be an extrovert to do this work.

      Marge (my wife) and I now belong to a mid-size downtown church that knows how to do this. Every member of the pastoral staff does real pastoral work, not just preaching or being a CEO or creating a so-called vision and master plan.

      It’s probably too early to give an honest assessment of the church growth movement. My emotional assessment is not a good one! But that is another story.

    • Becky,

      Your concerns are very familar to me. When my stepmother died, she had been disconnected from her church for at least 10-15 years, because of being more of a shut-in, etc. (And I was living in a distant state, so my pastor was out of the picture). My cousin asked one of the chaplains at her work( local Baptist hospital) to do the funeral. Dale had also been involved in visiting Mom, etc.

      I’m slightly concerned about myself, because I live about 300-400 miles from where my family is buried. So, whoever survives me will probably get a priest down there to say a few words.

  18. Listening to my sister trying to get a pair of sick 3 year olds through a bathroom experience while they fought over who’s turn it was to wash their hands, I was reminded of this discussion. Sheep may not mean a lot to us suburban types, but “little children” still works fine! The things we squabbie over and the enormous damage we thoughtlessly inflict on ourselves and others puts me in awe of God’s parental patience.

  19. Enoch Chee says

    Thanks, CM. That was helpful.