Counsel for Church Leaders
Many shepherds in the churches of God are unintentionally practicing some behaviors with their flocks which Christ would never have done with his followers. Here’s how you can ensure you are not one of them.
I am just back home after attending church, saddened and indignant at what transpired during service there. But before I get to that, let me give you a scenario, as a prelude to my narration of what happened in church today.
Jesus has just begun his historic sermon on the mount. The rustling and murmurs of a 5000-strong crowd of men and women settling down give way to an awed silence of keen concentration and introspection at the Galilean carpenter’s words reaching them, miraculously, very audibly from higher ground more than 200 feet away. And then, about five minutes into the sermon, just as the Teacher finishes his sentence about whoever breaks one of the least of his commandments shall be called least in his church, come panting a family of stragglers. They quietly try to sneak into a place among the sitting audience. But the Teacher stops speaking and glares at the direction of the stragglers who had interrupted his sermon. The whole crowd without exception turn their heads to look at what their teacher is staring at.
‘Come here’, Jesus calls, pointing to the family of four. There is no rebuke in his tone, just an emotionless injunction. There is even a condoning smile on his face. The four come up, smiling in embarrassment at being the sole focus of the whole audience, and stand before the Teacher. ‘You are the salt of the earth, and the light set on the hill’, Jesus reminds them. ‘My flock needs discipline to be a light to the whole world, and we need to honor the Father in heaven by always coming on time to hear about him.’ Then he looks at the wife of the male straggler and his teen daughter. ‘Because there are two ladies with you, I will excuse you from the usual five-sit up penance for latecomers. But I need you and this young man here’, gently stroking the head of the 10-year-old son ‘to clean up the place after the audience is gone.’
The blushing stragglers try to look normal, as if all this were a part of the Teacher’s keen sense of humor, and find places to sit down. But throughout the rest of the sermon, neither the man nor his wife can take in much of the historic statements proceeding from their Lord uphill. Their minds are involuntarily reliving again and again what they had just gone through so much so that they completely miss out on what the Teacher said about removing planks from the eye, about the two men who built their houses on sand and rock, and a few other profound analogies.
The sermon ends, but nobody had expected to stay on the mount so late into the evening, and most are hungry already. Then the miracle happens, and everyone finally have had their fill of the loaves and the fish, and slowly disperse. Everyone except his disciples, and that man and his son.
‘Help my disciples pick up the leftovers’, Jesus smilingly reminds the man. One of the disciples hands him an improvised reed basket, and the man starts to pick up the leftovers. The son follows dad, putting in his share of the leftovers into the basket.
Now, at the next sermon, where a similar miracle had happened, when the disciples were picking up the leftovers, one of them casually remarks, ‘Hey, that man from Bethel, who helped us with the picking the last time, he wasn’t here at the sermon, nor any from his family’. The other disciple replies, ‘I heard he is now with that splinter group casting out demons in our Master’s name, but which is not part of our fellowship’.
‘Funny’, remarks the first disciple. ‘Yea’, replies the other.
End of the scenario.
Now here is another, but a real one I personally witnessed.
It’s Sunday morning, and the faithful are all seated in their regular places in the church’s rows. The earnest pastor walks in at sharp 9:45, utters a few perfunctory words of humor, and then switches to his earnest preaching mode. He had hardly finished his third sentence, when four young members, including a middle-aged man with teenage children (his family wasn’t with him then), sneak in through the back door of the hall. Before their seats could make contact with the chairs, the pastor stops his sermon and beckons them over to his side. The four obey and go over to the front, where, with an embarrassed smile, they stand in line facing the congregation. The first timers in the church are puzzled and wonder what’s happening; the old timers know exactly what’s coming next. But today it doesn’t happen. Instead the pastor tells the men: ‘I will excuse you from the ‘Five’ today’ [the usual latecomers’ ordeal of five pushups in front of the congregation].
But the pastor said the church needs discipline and we need to honor Christ by coming on time, and he narrated a incident that happened when he attended a Bible study in Ireland. The building had a sliding door, and the door slammed shut and kept out anybody coming late by even five minutes. The Irish pastor would say that the latecomers could come for the study the following week.
After this narration, the pastor dismissed the four erring Christians, and resumed his fervent sermon. That day, as I wrote in the beginning, I went home a sad man, and in slight trepidation at the prospect of my ever turning up late for service in that church. I decided then that one day I must write a message on this subject for overearnest servants of God.
If Jesus had just once disciplined any of his followers like our mentioned pastor did to his little flock, I don’t think I would have been as deeply impressed with his tender patience and longsuffering as I am now. I know my Lord, and I have experienced how amazingly forbearing he is with even my serious shortcomings.
Some years ago, I did something that hurt him terribly, and I stood before him in shame and waited to be disciplined. I was willing to go through any chastisement just to get him to look upon me again with that fond look of delight he had been giving me ever since I got to know him a few years earlier. As I waited for his reprimand, I felt an embrace – I didn’t see his arms – but there was a perceptible sensation of God hugging me with such tender forgiveness that the agonizing remorse of the deep hurt I did to him began to fade away rapidly. My intimacy with him with immediately restored. There was no need for me to spend about a week or two in fastings and prayers to get back to the level of my previous closeness with him; no need for heartwrenching weepings and gnashings of teeth in repentance; no need to do anything except just bask in his forgiveness and just love him more.
When I realized the magnitude of what I did against him, and repented, and was forgiven, his words flashed across my mind: ‘Because you have been forgiven much, you love me much more than before’. Luke 7:47
And that, dear servant of God, is the reason why my love, and your love, for him keeps growing more and more. Because we’re being forgiven more and more.
Shepherds of Christ’s flock, ponder your pastoral ways, and deal with your erring ones with the same gentleness and sensitivity our Lord himself would show them.