Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Under new Shepherds : Knowing the true voice

Over the last few days I've been chatting through the implications of Jesus' famous words in John 10 with a number of people and small groups. We've been exploring together what impact these statements about his Good Shepherding have for those of us who are walking through a church leadership transition.

God Himself is the supreme Shepherd of his people - That's one of the primary ways that he reveals himself through the Old Testament. But his plan has always been to entrust some of the weight of his leadership to under Shepherds, to enable them to express something of his heart and his care. So, from Moses, through Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, the great King David, God's people were Shepherded. There were more bad Shepherds than good - These, the Prophets denounced, even as they longed for the one true Shepherd who would come and lead God's people.

In Jesus the Messiah, the Good Shepherd arrived. At the same time, He is both the Lamb and the Shepherd. The one who chooses to willingly sacrifice his perfect life for our imperfection, to lay down his life for his sheep. In Jesus, we have the fulfilment of all the prophetic yearning in the scriptures for a new kind of pastoral leadership of God's people.

When Jesus underlines this in John 10, it's evident that relationship is the most vital ingredient. The bottom line is that his sheep know his voice, and he knows them. There is a deep security in this kind of intimacy. Indeed, the contrasting scenario given by Jesus, whereby a stranger tries to call the sheep, is striking. Sheep will not follow a voice they don't know. More than this, they will scatter and fear and danger ensues. It's the polar opposite of the intimacy and security of the familiar voice of the true Shepherd.

The urgent provocation for our lives is that we recognise our deep need as Jesus followers to know his voice, and to know it better. This is even more vital for a church community that is undergoing a change of under Shepherd. More valuable than ever in such a time is the mature ability of every member to connect themselves in a meaningful way to the voice and path of the Good Shepherd.

It is after all a time where a familiar voice of pastoral care is being replaced by an unknown voice. The danger of insecurity and scattering is real. An enemy, whose schemes we are aware of, waits in hope of picking off the vulnerable. Whilst it naturally takes time to trust and follow a new voice, the need to do so must never override the greater need for each individual to connect themselves to the only truly Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Only here do we find the safety, intimacy and nourishment that we are longing for.

We won't find this in a man. However accomplished an under Shepherd he may be, even as we learn to know his voice, we find his leadership is simply a reflection of a greater Pastor. Only in Jesus do we rest in agreement with David's magnificent Psalm 23, 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.' Perhaps by turning our faces, our ears, and our hearts to him, we will find that we also walk in step with each other as he leads us in paths of righteousness?

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Trust, transition and knowing the Shepherd.

We are in a unique time in the local church right now. A Pastor who has led faithfully for over a quarter of a century is handing over the leadership of the church and the team, to me - a man who is new on the scene and new to the town.
During the transition period of the last few months, I've become increasingly impressed by the way in which this faithful Pastor is known and understood by good people, some of whom have walked with him for a long time. There is an ease and simplicity about life when we are known and we know. A rhythm of unspoken understanding in our words and listening, no need to analyse motives when we already know the heart from which the voice speaks.

This security is vital for the ongoing health of any local church. The absence of it is noticeable by contrast, particularly in a community where intimate relationship has formed. On a number of occasions in the last couple of months, I've had conversations with people I don't yet know well and assumed that we have understood each other. We have not - Not because I've not been clear, or because they are easily confused -but simply because they have been well conditioned over time to respond to the voice of another Shepherd. The issue is that we simply don't yet know each others voice, and this takes time.

I've read a lot of helpful encouragement in books during this period about the importance of the first 100 days in the new role. A time to make changes, a time to make your mark. I'm learning now, in month 5 that the time for building relationships is now, and will continue to be for some time yet. It's a process of trust that simply can't be rushed by management gurus or forced time expectations.

My faithful Pastor friend here learned 27 years ago to listen to what God says and do it, but to do so by walking with others. It hasn't always been easy, and he too will have gone though the early relational stages of misunderstanding, even at times suspicion and sometimes pain. But as he told his story to the church last sunday, for the last time in this context - even though many knew the script, filled in the gaps, called out prompts, anticipated the laughs, knew the ending - there was evident a rich history of Shepherding which has become so natural and instinctive for him and for the people.

This is huge blessing, in that it leaves behind a reservoir of corporate love. But the changing of Shepherds, the asking of a local congregation to follow a new Shepherd whose voice they don't yet know and heart they don't yet fully understand, is a huge step to ask a church to make. Just understanding the potential for a knowledge and trust void is probably the first step. Walking forward in growing relationship and increasing awareness of one another will be my privilege to get right as we advance from this place of safety into the relative unknown of the next few months.

As we were reminded on sunday, thank God that we are not doing this on our own! The head of the church is Jesus Christ, me and my faithful Pastor friend are simply under Shepherds. How securing for us all to know that He is leading us safely, that we can all know His voice, and be nourished in His pasture, even whilst the landscape around us begins to change.