The Shepherd's Balance

I haven’t been a pastor for very long (just under 2 years), and it’s been during some of the strangest times we will ever go through.  The challenges we’ve faced with not being able to be face to face with much of our congregation for a long span of time have led to some of the hardest discussions I’ve had to be a part of.  How do we connect with people?  Is watching a live stream really being part of a church?  How do we live boldly and yet with the right amount of caution?  

Through these questions and many more, I’ve been learning what it means to truly be a shepherd and it’s not always what we think it should be.   I think the shepherd’s heart essentially comes down to 2 main aspects:  compassion and challenge.  Each person may find their shepherd’s heart more attuned towards one of these aspects or the other, but it’s the blend of both and the wisdom of which to use when that makes the best shepherd’s heart.

Compassion -  When 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." - John 21:15

One of my strengths is my shepherd’s heart, especially around compassion and encouragement.  When it comes to making decisions, I will often try to find the solution that includes people and makes sure as few as possible are left behind.  I’m also a people pleaser by nature, so this falls very naturally into this aspect of a shepherd’s heart.  Caring for, protecting and sympathizing with people is easy for me, especially those who may be struggling.  This is the wonderful side of the compassion of the shepherd’s heart and the part that most of us appreciate.

It can also be a hindrance.  I’ve found that it can keep me from moving forward and living boldly.  I’m slower to shift in new directions for fear that people won’t be happy or won’t like me.  I’ve also seen that it can lead to sheltering people from the truth, which prevents them from actually growing.  

Challenge - So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ - Ephesians 4:14-15

Growth is not found without challenge (tension for those of you who know my key word).  When I was going through my divorce, I realized my faith had grown stagnant.  Although I continued to grow in my knowledge of God, I wasn’t being held accountable to change my life or my spiritual walk based on what I learned.  Part of this was withdrawing from Godly community and as a result, I stopped growing and became comfortable with my level of faith.  

The shepherd’s job in the Biblical times was not just to care for and protect the sheep but to correct their movement to the best fields or safest paths when they would start heading off in the wrong direction.  If one sheep got going in a direction, most of the rest would follow.  So the shepherd needed to make sure they all kept moving in the right direction that would give them the best life in the long run.  

Some people find challenge (you might also say correction) to be the easier side of a shepherd’s heart, but this is the area I’ve had to grow the most in, because it means pointing people in the right, but not necessarily popular or preferred, direction.  As a people pleaser, this leads to the hardest kinds of conversations I have to have.  Very few of us like being told that we’re wrong, but between being married and learning in ministry, I’ve experienced many times where I needed to be redirected to the right path.  

On top of that, I’m still learning to say it in the right way.  The adage most applicable here is “You might be right, but that doesn’t mean you get to be a jerk about it”.  This is often the case for many Christians, who may have the conviction of the right thing, but not be able to communicate it in a way that gets people onboard.  Sometimes, there’s no way around the direct confrontation, but I find it’s too easy to resort to that, instead of finding the best way to communicate the truth.  It's even harder when we on the receiving end forget to give each other the benefit of the doubt, knowing that even if we don’t express it well, our church family usually wants the best for one another.  Although it's easy to say, even we as pastors sometimes struggle with the assumptions we make about the intentions behind the words. There's work to be done on both sides of challenging communications for sure.

Wisdom to know the difference - If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. - James 1:5

How do we know which one to lean into in a given situation?  That’s where the wisdom of and discernment from God prevails.  In the Bible, you’ll see times when Jesus showed compassion for the crowds around him but also challenged individuals and leaders alike when He sensed that was what was needed.  When we as church leadership pray, I find our prayers pretty much always include asking for wisdom and discernment, especially given our world circumstances.  Hearing from the Holy Spirit is so key to everybody’s shepherd’s heart, to know when to emphasize compassion and when to challenge for growth.  If you want to grow your shepherd’s heart, practice listening to the quiet whispers of God.  

My hope is that as you interact with one another that you can see the shepherd’s heart in each one of us, even if we don’t communicate it well.  If you are having a hard time with your own shepherd’s heart, pray and listen, ask your fellow believers, seek out encouragement, because we need all of us to spur each other on to love and good works.  

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