September 29, 2020

Sheep On A Mission

63Just a seed of some thoughts. Don’t have time to develop them. About to travel, etc. But maybe you can improve them.

Paul the Apostle, II Corinthians 1:3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5 For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 6 Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. 7 We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. 8 We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9 In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10 And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. 11 And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety. (New Living Translation)

The question and answer post gave me a lot of food for thought. One question was about my experience at Advance 09 and what I had to say to younger leaders after that conference.

It’s sometimes very hard to put into some kind of reasonable form the tensions and opposites that often occur in ministry. For example, when you go to a conference like Advance 09, the entire idea of the conference is the missional advance of the church: winning new converts, baptisms, evangelism, new church plants, new ministries, mission involvement, saturating and influencing the culture. It’s a mission for the highly motivated and the capable. Yes?

But then I come back to my church and look around. It’s people struggling with finances, health, family problems and jobs. Ordinary Christians, many of whom aren’t particularly gifted to do much that would require assertive, outgoing, confrontational tactics. These are people who have aging parents, broken down cars, bad news on medical tests, children with drug and mental health problems and concerns about what more is going to happen to them tomorrow.

There’s a lot of trouble and brokenness among the sheep. A lot. You don’t hear that at the conferences. At the conferences you hear that the sheep need to get off their butts and get out there and be the church. But when you come back to your church, if you are a person with a heart, and not an insensitive shepherd who beats the sheep, your heart is broken for them. You want to comfort them. You want to feed them, tend them and help them find refreshing waters and green pastures.

I’ve always been torn along these lines. It’s probably why I could never bring myself to push churches to do the things that it took to be really successful. When I thought about going to ask Andy to teach a Bible study, I always thought about his problems with his teenage son and his dad’s cancer.

We have a mission. A Great Commission with clear directions to make disciples and plant churches across cultures. And we have broken, hungry, weary, beat-down sheep; at least many of them.

I don’t know the answer to this, but there are some things I believe are worth sharing.

II Corinthians 1 is a very helpful passage. Comfort is incorporated into the mission. The comfort that God offers to his people becomes part of the testimony and the missionary equipment they take with them into the world. The comfort of God becomes more than words. It becomes a ministry of comfort to others.

I believe this speaks deeply to how Christian compassion differs from worldly compassion: it reveals the heart of God for hurting people, and gives imperfect, broken sheep something wonderful to say about God and his people.

We see a direct discussion of this tension in II Corinthians 4:7-18.

7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 1 2So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.
13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (New Living Translation)

Several years ago, the great missiologist Ralph Winter spoke on a topic with a title similar to this: “How Well Must We Be To Go?”

The core of the message was that all missionaries are broken. There are, of course, factors and events that matter in any aspect of ministry, from going overseas to working in the nursery once a quarter, but the issue of our own pain and brokenness aren’t disqualifying. I must admit that, pastorally, it is hard for me to hear this and put it into practice with the broken people that I know.

But Paul is wise to tell me that I am not called to beat the sheep until they go down the road on mission or to ignore pain and hurt. I am to hold up the transforming “great treasure” of Jesus that is alive and working in the midst of the hurt and brokenness of his sheep. Jesus generates the power for ministry in broken, hurting people through the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. It is a transforming and empowering hope that cannot be explained.

I’ve always had a hard time understanding how those who suffer keep going strong in the cause of Christ. I know such grace doesn’t come in advance, but at the point of need. I have, however, seen it many times. The senior adult who has a stroke and won’t give up their Sunday job greeting visitors. The family with a child in constant need of medical care who gives money and time to serve others. The widow who faithfully works in the ministry of feeding the homeless. The family experiencing marriage and family problems who insist on helping lead worship. The man who loses everything in business and now wants to start a Men’s ministry. The laid off worker who takes groceries to poor families.

It is the power and beauty of Christ, not the power of guilt or ambition inspired motivation. It’s a great part of the way the Kingdom is to work in this world. Sheep- hungry, weak, weary, dying sheep- are on mission so that the Shepherd can be magnified in his care, comfort and hope.

There’s a critical balance here, one that we should seek to make in prayer and preparation. If we love the people we minister to and with, we will treat them like sheep and we will treat them as missionaries. Jesus does that perfectly in his relationship with his disciples, and we should pursue his example and pray that we will be shepherds and disciple-makers like him.

Comments

  1. That Other Jean says

    Christian or not, we are all part of that careworn, troubled flock. We could start by looking beyond ourselves and being kind to one another, as our best examples do.

    • ….you make a good point….christians do not have a monoply on being kind and of help to others…there are many shining examples of decent human beings who were not Christ followers..i think what would distinguish christians from non-christians in relation to doing good is in the treatment of their enemys..or at least should be…

      • That Other Jean says

        In the US, do Christians really have enemies? I understand that in some countries it is truly dangerous to be Christian; but here, don’t we generally just have to deal with people who annoy us, and who find us annoying? Surely we can extend aid and comfort to annoying people?

        • Jean,

          In my various jobs, I have found that people can be made to feel very uncomfortable just by some one living the Christian life. I am not, nor have I ever been a loud mouth Christian. I’ve seen the results of that way too often.

          But, I’ve been accused of not having any friends at work, because I didn’t go out drinking afterwards. I suspect that I made that supervisor very uncomfortable, even with me being clueless about the situation.

          I also suspect that something similar occurred in my current position, because my technician tried to set me up to get fired over sexual harassement that she was planning. Was that the true cause? I don’t know, nor will I ever know on this side of life. BUT, I never preached, never listened to Christian music on the radio, and my religous art in my office is subtle.

        • I was puzzled for a time about how to apply Jesus’s command to us to love our enemies and pray for them — I had a very limited notion of what an enemy is, and I didn’t see myself as having any. I’ve come to see that oftentimes persecution happens right at home, as Jesus indicates in his words recorded at Luke 12:51ff. I eventually had the courage to stand up to and finally separate from an abusive spouse, who most certainly treats me as an enemy to this day — and he quotes the bible regularly in doing so. Persecution also occurs *within* church communities or institutions when people are mistreated and even abused in often subtle ways, for daring to speak correction to authority figures, or even for just persistently asking questions which challenge official church agendas. Jesus helps me, personally, to love my enemies by showing me whatever there is in *me* that resembles the thing or things in my enemy that offend me the most — I can’t complacently assume an attitude of superiority and sustain it for long, b/c the holy spirit holds up a well-lit mirror for me to look in every time I do get to thinking I’m a better, nicer, more holy and humble sort.

  2. aaron arledge says

    I have often wondered if your church isn’t messy is it really a church. If there are not broken people there then who are you ministering to?

  3. As a former pastor of mine used to like to say, “The church is meant to be a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”

    And, after all, if it were the latter, how many seekers would want to walk through the door.

    • Yah, but hospitals make most people better. So unless we’re all waiting around to MORTALLY DIE in order to live, the metaphor doesn’t hold out very far. (Yeah yeah I know, the whole glorified bodies bit). If most of the sheep are crippled their entire mortal lives something isn’t right with the medicine.

      If I was a seeker I’d rather find a place that was full of good people doing great things, not sick losers who can’t ever seem to kick that nasty little p*rn habit, or abuse habit, or whatev.

  4. Amen, brother. Affliction, grief, pain, challenges all, are meant to *be* our mission in glorifying God and pointing to his power in and through us. Keep at it! You’re doing kingdom work.

  5. “It is the power and beauty of Christ, not the power of guilt or ambition inspired motivation.”
    Hardship, pain, suffering, etc, is everyone’s earthly future and the daily life of so many throughout the world. We don’t minimize or deny it. We minister to the hurting in the name of Jesus but as Chritian ministers we must orient (we) the sheep to the beauty of Christ, the greatness of the gospel and the comfort of his love. We live in a culture that tends to focus so much on our feelings and our self in relation to our present circumstances. The gospel frees us to change our own focus as well as prayer, care, share for others as others may share/care for us.

  6. Ok…..wow…..

    First, I humbled that my question (I’m assuming it was, at least) prompted this much thought in your mind, as one who already has plenty of important thoughts in his mind about plenty of important subjects.

    Moreover, I find a lot of validation in this post. I asked what I asked precisely because these are the things I’m wrestling with.

    I find myself continuing to struggle to find my “place” at 26. Not church-wise, as in searching for a community, but “what to do with my gifts, abilities, personality, hopes, and dreams”-wise.

    I’ve been a believer for 7 years, and from the beginning I’ve been burdened with the need to share the Gospel. My eyes were opened to the great, great need. That took a natural course of evangelism ministry while in college. That was my emphasis.

    Through some of those efforts I unintentionally became something of a recognized leader on campus, and this is when I saw the great, great need for young Christians to have solid teaching/preaching/discipleship. So I took that role on next. That became my emphasis. I met with as many people as I could meet with to give away the little I had to offer.

    Through that effort I came to understand people’s brokenness, problems, baggage, etc. I then saw the great, great need to recognize Jesus as Redeemer and Healer. I began to look at the Scriptures in a more redemptive context. That became my emphasis (and I’m still here for the most part).

    In between the revelations of all these great, great needs there were a lot of growing pains and important experiences.

    There was fellowship with many flavors of Christians (pentecostal to plymouth brethren and everyoen in between); helping to start a new campus outreach; trying to be a minister of racial reconciliation among believers; going on staff with a campus ministry for a year; leaving staff and being broke/jobless for over a year where I began knowing the Lord as the Giver of my daily bread; random encounters with the homeless and helpless; relational issues and with a lot of apologies and regrets; getting calls & emails from college students dissatisfied with the ministry who were coming to me because they recognized me as being “real;” becoming known as that weird thing called “a good speaker;” trying my best to ‘shepherd the flock among me’ with something different that the status quo drivel that is always being fed; delving into christian counseling books and research on spiritual abuse; depression over the fact that no one arounds me seems to come to Christ despite my so-called giftedness in evangelism; learning about the sovereignty of God and OD’ing on calvinism; shooting for the practice of the presence of God….and on and on and on.

    Right now I’m wrestling with these things spoken about at the Advance conference, and like you, am trying to see how that relates to the family in my church with the baby with seizure problems, all of the constant medical issues, job issues, relational issues, the brokenness, the humanity.

    Man….sorry for rambling. It’s just all heavy. All these things with the Gospel still needing to be preached to those who never heard and churches planted and people trained and all that. But I am so with you on how you seem to phrase it- the need for good shepherds. I’ve been blessed with many good shepherds, one in particular. Viewing things through the shepherding lense and treating people as valuable, important *individuals* accounts for anything good I’ve ever accomplished ministry wise.

    I’m 26 and trying to figure it out and do my best. Oh, and all the while trying to keep my eyes fixed on the beauty and majesty, the One who is my all and all and my only.

    I don’t dare say I can relate…..but I might one day, Lord willing.

  7. “The core of the message was that all missionaries are broken.” As a full-time missionary in Western Europe, two observations on this:

    1) Not every Christian realises the truth of this statement. Churches and Christians need to stop glorifying missionaries as some super-human perfect saint who never falls and struggles with nothing. When my blog gets search terms like “can missionaries feel depressed”, I know that people have the wrong idea about all of us.

    2) Not every missionary realises the truth of this statement. While none of us are perfect, I have witnessed a certain amount of new missionaries that completely believe the perfection hype about themselves. It seems to make them oblivious to specific obstacles that should be dealt with before going on mission. Because they don’t, they abandon the mission field even earlier than the statistical 18 months, even if they were to be long-term. Not only does the failure mess with their minds, it really makes a mess for those left in the field, both missionaries and young Christians.

  8. An old blogging friend from Kentucky would tell you it is words such as you post here that give him hope concerning the Church. I know, of course, that Christ is yet within the sanctuary, but the last few decades have had me wondering if television evangelism hasn’t done more harm than good. The Bible use of the word “vision” has been misrepresented by so many. Bigger barns, multi-million dollar complexes that are more about “self” than knowing His voice. “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel…….1 Tim. 5:8” – I think that applies to the pulpit as well as the pew; and too often, in our stumbling, we get so caught up in ecclesiastical success that we forget about the sheep….

  9. I was thinking about “Field of Dreams” and mission the other day … another seed thought, but related.

  10. I’d have to agree with your recent comment that you prepare and write your best stuff with 20 minutes notice. Your thoughts here are wonderful.

  11. I-Monk: that was just off the charts helpful, to me. My mind , and my behind , are a little mushy after sitting thru 5 hours of Benny Hinn yesterday (and he wasn’t done when I left), so your words and his offer a bizarre contrast. I went with my brother who is divorced after 25 plus years and desparately wants the “miraculous” to put his life back together. Your description of ‘broken and hurting sheep” could not describe him better. My brother does NOT need a spiritual “TO DO’ list, in fact it’s following TO DO lists that help shred his marriage.

    Love this post: my pastor started a series on evangelism this past Sunday, and I’ll float this column to him and our pastoral evangelism team. The paradox, as you’ve mentioned is the balance that Jesus gives: HE asks a LOT of HIS disciples…..but HE sure gives a lot as well.

    GOD help us today to be hands, feet, ears, and MAYBE mouths to a lost a hurting church/world.

    Great job.
    Greg R

  12. To me, this is an aspect of “consulting” and “parachurch” advice on church planting and renewal that needs to be carefully watched. I am a pastor, and I have known so many Christians who have gotten personally disenfranchised in the midst of men trying to push their churches. Speaking of sheep, I have been reading “Sheep Book” by Ronald Parker. It has nothing to do with Christianity or pastoring, just about sheep. But it said yesterday in the portion that I was reading that you can not “drive” sheep anywhere. You have to “lead” them, out front showing them. He also said if you treat them like kids, or cows, or horses it won’t work. So to me the answer is to be a shepherd, not a bishop lording it over God’s flock with constant abuse disguised as discipleship.

    • Wanting to understand the sheep/shepherd paradigm some more I looked for a book like this awhile ago, but could only find books from the veterinary or agricultural perspective. What a great find this is.

      While searching I was led to “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by Philip Keller which was very helpful.

  13. “But Paul is wise to tell me that I am not called to beat the sheep until they go down the road on mission or to ignore pain and hurt. I am to hold up the transforming “great treasure” of Jesus that is alive and working in the midst of the hurt and brokenness of his sheep. Jesus generates the power for ministry in broken, hurting people through the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. It is a transforming and empowering hope that cannot be explained.”

    Amen, Michael! It never ceases to amaze me how quickly evangelism migrates from the four spiritual laws to graduate level systematic theology. In between, there is a whole host of Scripture that was designed for us to grow between spiritual infants and adulthood that is glossed over and/or never discussed. Go and preach and share and live in Jesus just as you are and strive for more faith and grace. It’s preached in my circles, but only at the ethreal and theoretical levels and rarely from the heart and with the audience in mind.

    Brad

  14. AA is an example worth considering on this question. Namely, how those still in process, still in need of comfort, can serve as witnesses of what they have seen, can give what they have been given.

    Part of it is that AA has dismantled the expert culture and exchanged it for a culture of witnesses, sharing with each other and beyond what they have personally experienced (not become a doctor of). Another part is that they see helping others as part of their own recovery. The church, generally, does neither of these things which is deeply ironic.

  15. Someone smarter than I can grab this thought and flesh it out, but it occurs to me, as I read thru these comments how any kind of triumphalistic gospel will put the battered sheep in an impossible bind: how do you preach a message that is patently false in your own experience ?? The remedy: get back to the real gospel of the Kingdom that includes the ‘now’ (works of power, moving of the spirit in tangible ways, etc) AND the ‘not yet’ (our bodies falling apart as our inner man is made new).

    • Greg,

      I’m not sure where you are coming from in this conversation, but some of your word choices bother me. Like “works of power”, “moving of the spirit in tangible ways” and “bodies falling apart”.

      Probably because I’m not from your background, they sound to me, that they would add burdens not take them away. Just the way, in my evangelical background, Paul being knocked off his animal on the road to Damascas was taught so much that it seemed to be the ideal conversion story. Sure, there was mention that not everyone has one like that, but that didn’t come across as strongly.

      If it helps those whom you are responsible for, then may God bless it.

      • Anna: Point well taken, and as to the burdens, they (references to ‘works of power’ , etc) certainly could and have. Christians are often led to extremes, either “God always does it this way” or “God never does it this way”. I’m from a denom that underlines (at times to a fault) the works of power thing. I’m more of a reader, linear thinker myself, so I’m something of a weird child even within my own group. So, if you are trying to alert me to the trap of always excpecting GOD to do a “zap” just because we say the magic….I mean scriptural, words…. I”m totally on board with that. Many of our unsaved neighbors are unimpressed with the loud shouting, but might need help with something a lot more mundane like a ride to the store, or help with a five yr. old.

        hope this helps
        Greg R

  16. Larry Geiger says

    Because most of us are’nt called to go. We are called, by God, to marry, have children, raise and support a family, and be an active part of a local congregation.

    If you are called to go, and you don’t go, then you will have problems in your life. If you are not called to go and you go, same thing, more problems.

    Sometimes Pastors want all of us to be Pastors. Study Greek and Hebrew, visit everyone, write stuff, study the Bible more, etc.

    Sometime Missionaries want all of us to be Missionaries. Everyone should go somewhere and do something.

    Most of us are not called to either of those two roles. Most of us.

  17. “I’ve always been torn along these lines. It’s probably why I could never bring myself to push churches to do the things that it took to be really successful.”

    Maybe you use the word “successful” tongue in chic? Because later on of course you move on to hint at success with more clarity –the success of becoming a the healthy person, or having a rightly ordered soul. I know, the success of the GC is important; obviously it is a pinnacle of Jesus’ desires. But living well in the KOG is certainly another, and I suspect, more primary goal of Jesus, for everyone.

  18. “It’s sometimes very hard to put into some kind of reasonable form the tensions and opposites that often occur in ministry….when you go to a conference… the entire idea of the conference is the missional advance of the church… It’s a mission for the highly motivated and the capable. Yes?

    But then I come back to my church and look around. It’s people struggling with finances, health, family problems and jobs. Ordinary Christians, many of whom aren’t particularly gifted to do much that would require assertive, outgoing, confrontational tactics. These are people who have aging parents, broken down cars, bad news on medical tests, children with drug and mental health problems and concerns about what more is going to happen to them tomorrow.

    There’s a lot of trouble and brokenness among the sheep. A lot. You don’t hear that at the conferences. At the conferences you hear that the sheep need to get off their butts and get out there and be the church. But when you come back to your church, if you are a person with a heart, and not an insensitive shepherd who beats the sheep, your heart is broken for them. You want to comfort them. You want to feed them, tend them and help them find refreshing waters and green pastures.

    I’ve always been torn along these lines. It’s probably why I could never bring myself to push churches to do the things that it took to be really successful. When I thought about going to ask Andy to teach a Bible study, I always thought about his problems with his teenage son and his dad’s cancer.”

    We Latter-day Saints have the very same issues in our church. People are given church callings and responsibilities in the middle of difficult trials and miracles occur because of the sacrifices that members make to fulfill their responsibilities. Following the principle of sacrifice is what activates the grace of God was we work. Further, we help each other bear the burdens. We support each other. Church responsibilities are not allowed to interfere with family responsibilities.

  19. Considering I eat sheep, maybe looking at people as sheep should be avoided in my case 😉

    Some of the things you discuss in your post made me think of how far our family has come in the last 5 years. Some of the ailments are related to Christians attempting to straddle a secular and Christian world view.

    One example is diet. We have moved away from a proper diet aligned with the magnificence of what God has provided to one of many made convenience and a diet nearly devoid of nutrition. This has been reinforced by many doctors I have talked to over the age of 70 and many others older people we have been interviewing. As we have moved towards a diet more closely aligned with God’s provision we have become much healthier and sickness is significantly reduced compared to before. Yet we cry out to God to help us when we get sick and diseased although we have been pounding microwave meals in our gullet for years.

    Another example is debt. Our move towards a debt based consumption society has created many of our own woes. How many times have I seen people ask for prayers for finances because they can’t make it because one spouse lost their job. They have been buying newer cars, taking vacations and eating out constantly but now I am supposed to pray for them for their bad stewardship of God’s resources. That is a small rant but my biggest prayer is that their hearts are turned to seeing what they have been doing and for God to provide. Dave Ramsey and I do not see eye-to-eye on a few things but what his business is doing in the church is phenomenal, Christians getting debt free….go Dave!

    My personal goal has been helping believers to try and slowly getting their lives corrected and getting aligned with a proper Christian life that provides them the opportunity to serve God whenever and wherever he needs. Most of us live in countries that allow us to take hold of our selves and correct just the two items I have identified above yet many do not because they are too deep in the world’s system and IMO are being led down the wrong path.

    Please do not read the above as a pious view as I was there a decade ago however if we do not help the people we fellowship with to get healthly _and_ serve then we are just asking unhealthy people to serve without looking at the true cause of their lack of health in many areas of their lives.

    Let’s cure the cause, not the symptom.