The Shepherd’s Staff – Ezekiel 34:7-16
This is a difficult and ambiguous time at King’s Grant Baptist Church. It is hard to take in that the person who has shepherded us for all these years has decided to leave us. Many couples have been married, many family members have been buried. A pastor goes through life with us, we were a family.
On the other side, now we feel alone, vulnerable, anxious, and to some degree we feel betrayed by the simple fact that our pastor is going to shepherd other people instead of us. Yes, we recognize God’s calling on his life, and sometimes following that call moves our ministers in a different direction, but we grieve the loss none the less.
There is no doubt that losing a pastor can be a time of upheaval for a church. When a pastor simply retires after long and faithful service (like Jerry), or if he moves on to another area of service in response to God’s leading (like Skip), it can be a time of sweet sorrow. We can, and should lift him up in prayer and encourage him in his new adventure.
But there is also a flip side. We grieve the loss, the ambiguity, and the anxiety, the uncertainty: who will faithfully teach us the Bible? Who will do our wedding? Who will preach my funeral? Who will train me to be all that God wants me to be for his kingdom’s sake?
Then there is the inevitable posturing for leadership by various members of a congregation. This is generally done because some people sense a vacuum of leadership now that the CEO is gone. The thought is that WE need to gain control of the situation, perhaps others feel that no one can better lead during this time than so and so, and during this election year, we can tend to campaign for taking on such leadership. After all this potential tension, it comes down to trusting the body of Christ, and in the Holy Spirit who is leading the people of King’s Grant Baptist Church.
In order to help us through this difficult time, we must first begin with an understanding of exactly whom the church belongs to. The church does not belong to the pastor or to the leadership or even to the congregation. While we embrace congregational rule and autonomy in a Baptist church, we cannot lose sight of the fact of whose church this really is.
The church belongs to Christ. The Bible says that Christ is the Head of the church. The word church (ekklesia) literally means the “assembly of the called-out ones.” These called-out ones gather together to worship the head of the church, our Savior, our Lord, our True Shepherd.
The church (all those who profess faith in Jesus Christ) is committed to following the leadership of Christ in all that we do; by obeying Him, and even presenting an accurate image of Christ to a lost world who is constantly watching. The church is the body of Christ. He died for His body, and His body dies daily in order to live for Him. Until and unless church leadership is committed to this biblical model and the congregation comes to grips with this truth, no pastor can really be successful.
So the first step in surviving the loss of a pastor is to understand the definition of the church. Additionally, we should be united in our understanding of and our commitment to the church, both the local church and the universal church. A lot of church conflict comes from a lack of unity in the beliefs of the church and the commitments of the church to its mission and purpose. The church is not about US, the church is about and FOR him. So, before beginning to seek a new pastor, the church, the body, must agree on the true leader of the church.
It is amazing that when we have a proper Christology, other issues become very clear. As an example, our understanding of Christ will determine our understanding of our mission; which in turn determines our understanding of church. We cannot get this out of order. For the visually inspired, it looks something like this:
Second, the church must understand and be committed to the sovereignty of God in all things. Nothing that happens is a surprise to God, God allowed this to accomplish his will and his purposes, for US and for HIM. God has assured us that, all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). The church can take comfort in the knowledge that we are being led by the sovereign God who is involved in the details of everyday life and the ministry of his church.
Third, the departure of a pastor is a good time to reevaluate and/or redefine the mission and work of the church. There are obvious commands from Scripture—teaching and preaching the Word of God, being a people of prayer, worshipping and glorifying our heavenly Father, and fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples. But we have to ask ourselves if we have moved from our original calling to be on mission; living with purpose and intentionality. Have we embraced a more comfortable lifestyle and do we emphasize our own worship preferences? We must ask the question, as John says in the Revelation, “Have we lost our first love, and left the mission and vision that Jesus has for us?” Leaving our first love can manifest itself by promoting our own desires and preferences over Jesus and his mission, the lost, and God’s calling us to be on mission with him.
All this is to say, God is in charge, so we don’t have to take control of the situation. He knew that we would be going this long before the announcement was ever made. Nothing catches God off guard, and we don’t have to worry. Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you, Peter tells us (1 Peter 5:7). I believe that God is going to teach us something during this time. While our local shepherd has left us, the Good Shepherd will never leave us nor forsake us. We are NOT lost sheep and we are NOT left as orphans. God has a plan for us and we must simply trust that he is looking out for us!
This church has gathered under the leadership of the Holy Spirit; we have among us a fine group of servant leaders. You have a capable and faithful staff that is in place to care for the needs of this congregation and offer leadership during this interim time. It is my desire that the congregation have confidence in your current staff to guide us through this time of change and uncertainty.
Ok, so let’s get to this passage about shepherds in Ezekiel 34.
This passage begins with a look at the ungodly leaders of Israel, and the apostasy of the kings of Israel. When ungodly leaders lead God’s people, everyone suffers. While they are called “shepherds,” they are actually political leaders, perhaps kings. Of Israel’s 20 kings, ALL of them were weak, unspiritual, and evil leaders. Of the 20 kings of Judah, only six were good. Godliness was missing from every aspect of community life, just take a look at Ezekiel 22. Leaders used their strength to shed blood (Ezekiel 22:4, 6), prophets devoured people and seized their valuables, they multiplied widows (Ezekiel 22:25), the priests did violence and profaned the holy things of God (Ezekiel 22:26). So, with leaders like this, who will blame the people for practicing extortion, robbery, oppression of the poor, or exploitation of the foreigners, (Ezekiel 22:29). There is a great and sober truth at play here: people learn by example.
There was an absence of leadership in every way possible. And because if it, the Lord counted them all guilty of violating his trust and he announced their destruction. As a result, God’s lament over the situation is recorded in Ezekiel 22:30, “I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.” The people needed a leader who would challenge them toward personal holiness and embrace God’s global purpose.
This verse of Scripture, Ezekiel 22:30, reminds me of a song years ago by Al Denson, called “Be the One”
In a world full of broken dreams, Where the truth is hard to find
For every promise that is kept, There are many left behind
Though it seems that nobody cares, It still matters what you do
Cause there’s a difference you can make, But the choice is up to you
Will you be the one, To answer to His call
Will you stand, When those around you fall
To take His light, Into a darkened world
Tell me will you be the one?
Instead of having leaders who were consumed by God’s glory, God’s mission, and leading the people for their own good, Israel’s shepherds were concerned with themselves, (Ezekiel 34:2). Look at some of the issues revealed in Ezekiel 34:1-8…
The False Shepherds (Ezekiel 34:1-8)
- They feed and water themselves (Ezekiel 34:1-3)
- They refuse to care for the weak, sick, injured (Ezekiel 34:4)
- They allow wild animals to devour them (Ezekiel 34:5-8)
It was the responsibility of the shepherds, the leaders, to care for the people, to protect them, and to see to it that their needs were met. But these selfish leaders of the kingdom of Israel had abused and exploited the people because they thought only of themselves.
The leaders not only exploited the sheep but they also abused them by neglecting to meet their needs. Sheep require constant care, but the leaders didn’t manage the nation’s affairs for the sake of the sheep, but for their own profit. They didn’t care for the sheep at all, but only for themselves. As I put this together, I thought, any resemblance to those in DC is purely coincidental.
False shepherds of the Old Testament had led the nation to ruin, yet God will come to rescue his people. True leaders don’t exploit their people—they sacrifice for them. Jesus, the true shepherd, set the example by laying down His life for His flock (John 10:10). I’ll talk more about this on Mother’s Day May 8.
Rather than focus on the ungodly shepherds of their day, I want to focus on that which God expects of US today, for the leaders of his sheep.
When I was a kid, one of my favorite shows was called, “the Dukes of Hazard.” At least once each week Uncle Jessie would get on the CB radio and call out, “Shepherd to lost sheep, shepherd to lost sheep, y’all got your ears on?” So, in this passage, while God has stern words for the shepherds, he will also comfort his people, because he has a message for his lost sheep.
God may have been chastising the shepherds, but he never gave up on his sheep. Check out what he expected the shepherd to do.
The Faithful Shepherd (Ezekiel 34:11-16)
- He seeks the sheep (Ezekiel 34:11)
- He cares for his sheep (Ezekiel 34:12a)
- He delivers or rescues his sheep (Ezekiel 34:12b)
- He gathers his sheep (Ezekiel 34:13)
- He feeds his sheep (Ezekiel 34:14-15a)
- He leads his sheep (Ezekiel 34:15b)
- He pastors his sheep (Ezekiel 34:16)
- Positive: seeks the lost, brings back the scattered, binds the broken, strengthens the sick (Ezekiel 34:16a)
- Negative: destroys the fat and strong, feeding them with judgment
I want you to notice the personal pronouns used in this section, Ezekiel 34:11-16. These are first person promises, some 25 promises in all. These promises include judgment as well as deliverance. When we read about all of the exploitation of the kings, these “I will” statements in Ezekiel 34 suggest God’s determination to be involved in the lives and destinies of his people. No longer will there be a human mediator between God and his people. The Messiah was to be the shepherd of God’s people.
God was leading the sheep for their own good, not as Israel’s shepherds had done, who were in it for themselves. After reading this list of what the faithful shepherd is going to do, why would the people of God want a different kind of king over them, other than God?
What about us? God wants to have authority over us, but we often feel that his authority is NOT in our best interest. Is he really looking out for us? Don’t I get a say in this? I have all of my life goals and plans, or the vision for this church, all set and they’re beginning to unfold, so don’t come in a make me change anything. Let me tell you, immediate obedience to God is always in our best interest; disobedience always brings vulnerability and downfall.
God wants to lead us for our own good. He is not a tyrant; he is one who wants to relate to us and carefully lead his sheep.
What I see here is actually pretty staggering; but the truth is that we DO NOT deserve this type of leadership. In case we are viewing ourselves as defenseless, fluffy, innocent sheep who are worthy of a sacrificial leader, we should always remember that just like Israel, we have often rejected God’s leadership. Perhaps we have even hated God’s leadership. In fact, every sin that we commit is actually a profession that WE are really in charge. Each sin is a reminder of our OWN reign in our lives, and a demotion of God’s reign. And we are ALL guilty, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way;” (Isaiah 53:6).
In spite of our rebellion, God has never wavered from his desire to reconcile sinners to himself. No one has ever sacrificed so much, his own Son, to bring an ungrateful people into his presence.
So during this time of uncertainty of not having a senior pastor, I trust that you will have confidence in God’s direction and leadership, and in the earthly shepherds that our heavenly father has provided. We need, and have, shepherds (your staff members) who are looking out for your best interests. We are here to love you, care for you. We are here to challenge you to strive for God’s best, and to take risks for the kingdom’s sake. You are not left as orphans because our pastor is gone. This time in the life of our church is cause to embrace the True Shepherd who cares for us more than any earthly human being is ever able to do. Don’t fret, don’t worry, but have confidence in God, in our Savior, and in his timing. Anticipate and expect much greater things in our future. For his glory and his honor! Amen.
- Will you commit yourself to prayer during this time, as we seek a new pastor?
- Will you commit yourself to others in this church through faithful participation and active service?
- Will you put your own desires and personal preferences aside as we seek to become a church focused on God’s mission and global purpose?
- In what ways will you seek the lost? Bring back the scattered? Bind the broken? Strengthen the sick? Feed or lead the sheep?
- In what ways will you meet the needs of others during this time of uncertainty?