Tending to the Flock
The mantra of many modern churches is that people matter to God. This includes those who have not yet believed and those who have already crossed the line of faith in Christ. The pendulum swing of the local church towards seeker driven ministry over the past twenty five years has caused some leaders to question its effect on the health of their sheep. Whether we call it evangelistic, seeker, outreach services or something else the movement has changed the face of church. It has changed how we worship, teach the word and connect with our community. More than five years ago the Willow Creek Association conducted the Reveal Survey to determine the spiritual health of their congregation who had been raised in the seeker movement. Some would say that they were not prepared for the results. Reporting on the results Matt Branaugh writer for Christianity Today noted “ In addition, a quarter of the "close to Christ" and "Christcentered" crowd described themselves as spiritually "stalled" or "dissatisfied" with the role of the church in their spiritual growth. Even more alarming to Willow Creek: About a quarter of the "stalled" segment and 63 percent of the "dissatisfied" segment contemplated leaving the church.” Pastors began questioning their investment or lack thereof into the spiritual growth of their sheep. The fear of not creating Christ honoring, spiritually formed disciples has caused what some have called the end of the seeker movement. Five years after the Reveal results were released Willow Creek has overhauled its teaching team, deepened its weekend teaching, shutdown its midweek “New Community” service and now offers elective bible studies after a corporate worship time under the theme “go deep”. There has been a collective acknowledgement that the lack of depth in teaching within “seeker” churches has resulted in congregations that are a mile wide and an inch deep. Whether accurate or not a shift has occurred in many churches as they desire to completely fulfill Jesus words in the Great Commission.
We as Shepherds cannot look past the sheep we have been given, to seek the sheep that have not yet entered the fold. When Jesus spoke the parable about the lost sheep He said the Shepherd left the ninety nine to seek that one lost sheep. This would not be a surprise to Shepherds listening to His story. They valued all sheep because that was their job. Their mission was to care for the sheep that were placed under their care. The lost sheep was not a new addition to the flock. He had wandered away from the place he belonged. The Shepherd was not seeking a previously unknown sheep. He was seeking the one that already belonged to Him. In Luke 15 the lost coin, the lost sheep and the prodigal son are examples to of how we are to pursue our brothers and sisters in Christ. They have wandered away possibly due to disobedience, conflict or maybe even rejection. These lost sheep are welcomed back with open arms. Jesus is placing an emphasis on caring for the flock.
When a shepherd left to seek after the one that was lost we know that he would first arrange care for his existing sheep. He would not go to pursue the one until the remaining sheep were fed and cared for by another shepherd. The sheep were not left to feed and care for themselves. This reality provides all spiritual shepherds with a duty to make the feeding and nurturing of their sheep their highest priority.
Another shepherding reality displayed their commitment to the flock. If a sheep continually wandered away the shepherd would break it legs so it could not wander. The shepherd would care for its broken bones and carry the lamb on his shoulders until it was able to support itself. The sheep would learn to walk again with the careful guidance of the shepherd. As a result the sheep would become so close to the shepherd it would never wander again. What a beautiful picture of a shepherd’s commitment to its flock. Are we that committed to our sheep?
“Willow Creeks Huge Shift” by Matt Branaugh in Christianity Today, May 2008