Start with Prayer

I’m sitting at home with my i phone, i pad, i laptop (Mac Book Pro), i golden – 75 pound – doodle, my wife and her mom. There is also some furniture and other key amenities but the first list is the most important. Most of of you are probably in a similar situation, some have pre-schoolers running wild and free! Last night at our Zoom community group meeting, with pre-schoolers, featured a shared screen with the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones, an announcement that Callie’s dog threw up 5 times, and a truncated sermon discussion.

One of thoughts going through my mind is – Don’t waste the Virus! God has good and wise plans and let’s take advantage with some extra Bible reading, jumping in to unexpected opportunities to listen and help, some extended phone calls, games with the family, a few Netflix moves with guidance from Brett McCracken (Gospel Coalition), Zoom worship services, and let me suggest – some extra prayer.

We’re stuck. At home. Seems like our hands are tied. That might be a good thing for a change.

Here’s a link that might jump start your prayer.

Crisis as Opportunity

Mansoer_(Djoemala)_helping_a_sick_Roekihati_(Roekiah),_Roekihati,_p28

History proves that crises provide opportunities for Christians to demonstrate what makes our worldview different. This article from the Gospel Coalition provides a helpful summary of ways the early church stepped up in the plagues of the third and fourth centuries that wiped out whole villages.

“In an AD 362 letter, Julian complained that the Hellenists needed to match the Christians in virtue, blaming the recent growth of Christianity on their ‘benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead, and the pretended holiness of their lives.’ Elsewhere he wrote, ‘For it is a disgrace that . . . the impious Galilaeans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well.’”

“According to Dionysius, the plague served as a ‘schooling and testing’ for Christians. In a detailed description of how Christians responded to the plague in Alexandria, he writes of how ‘the best’ among them honorably served the sick until they themselves caught the disease and died:

“Most of our brother-Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains.”

For more context and perspective read the rest of the article!

Responding to COVID-19

Coronavirus Disease 2019 Rotator Graphic for af.mil.

This article from Christianity Today is very helpful in explaining why early response is critical to contain a virus like COVID-19. Excerpts here:

Seventeen years ago, I was working for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Beijing when the SARS coronavirus epidemic broke out in China. I was thrust into leading much of WHO’s support to China and worked 24/7 for over three months to help contain that epidemic. I saw firsthand the effects of SARS on the people of China, the extraordinary social distancing efforts undertaken by the government, and the cost that the society paid to contain that epidemic…

Several factors have come together to help the COVID-19 effectively and stealthily invade our community without notice.
First, it is hard to know whether you have COVID-19 or just the common cold. Eighty percent of people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms like fever, cough, runny nose, and general tiredness, which matches the common cold. This means a person may be carrying and transmitting the virus without knowing it.
Second, you don’t have to be around an infected person to get infected. Infected people can cough and generate respiratory droplets, which then land on nearby surfaces. Or people with the viruses on their hands can deposit the viruses onto a door handle when they open the door. Because these viruses can stay alive on surfaces for at least several hours, people who touch a surface with the viruses on it and then touch their nose or eyes can become infected.
Third, about 20 percent of infected people develop a more severe illness and may need to be hospitalized; 3 percent of all those infected die. However, the virus is particularly aggressive among the elderly and those with chronic illnesses, resulting in a death rate several times higher for these vulnerable individuals.
Therefore, this virus is particularly difficult to control because it causes complacency among the vast majority of people who have the infection, which facilitates its transmission from person to person while causing the greatest harm to the most vulnerable individuals.
Adding to the difficulty is the fact that we currently do not have enough test kits to diagnose this infection. Right now in Seattle, there are barely enough tests for those admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. Though more tests should become available soon, we need to make testing so widely available in Seattle that anyone who wants the test can get it. Only then can we shine a light on the real size of this outbreak, which is what is needed to contain it…

The virus can be beat. All around the world, there are many examples of COVID-19 entering a community and then never gaining a foothold—all because people apply basic public health principles. There is nothing sexy about rapidly identifying and isolating infectious cases and their contacts. But it works. However, it needs to be applied aggressively and effectively right at the start.
Unfortunately, what we see over and over is that the response is late. By the time the virus gains a foothold in the community, beating it requires much more aggressive social distancing. I believe this virus is already firmly established in many of our communities. Even so, many churches are reluctant to act. By the time an outbreak spirals out of control—like the ones in China, South Korea, and northern Italy—extreme social distancing measures, like locking down cities or regions, become necessary. But the social cost of such extreme distancing will be high, not to mention the economic cost.

Daniel P. Chin, Christianity Today

Read the full article here.

Many more resources here from EFCA Leaders and others.

A Very Broad Mantle

wally-norling-smallBy Kelly Larson (Bishop Creek Community Church, CA)

It was nearly a decade ago that my mentor Wally Norling and his wife Betty came to Bishop to be part of my installation at Bishop Creek Community Church, so I was very happy to be at his funeral as we celebrated his installation into eternity with his Lord Jesus Christ.

Our family had a long history with Wally, but I was reintroduced to him when I just happened into his class after serving communion one day. They had donuts, Wally was teaching. I thought I’d stay. I am glad I did. I loved the way he opened up God’s Word. His teaching always had substance. He was always concerned about the “flow of the logic of the grammar of the text.” It was always about God’s Word, not about Wally’s opinion. I continued to come to the class. After a few Sundays, I chased him down and asked, “This stuff is great. Why isn’t this on tape?” As always, he was less than impressed with himself, and merely shrugged his shoulders.

After a while, I asked Wally if he would be willing to meet with me, to be my mentor. I found out later that this was not all that unique of an idea as he had met with perhaps, hundreds of individuals and couples. After checking his schedule, he agreed to meet with me.

I wonder looking back how many strays had followed him home? How many strays like me Wally had brought through the door? How many times had he looked at Betty as if to say, “Another one followed me home; can we keep him?” But Wally had a way with strays like me.  Betty was always gracious providing cookies, or brownies, or milk, or conversation.

We met for several years. I was not a pedigree specimen by any stretch of the imagination. I am sure I was a great challenge to him, but, in spite of that, we had a good time. Wally had a very simple way about him, but he definitely had a way of getting his teaching across. He saw something in me I hadn’t acknowledged was there. I certainly am in ministry today because God moved through the hands of this servant of Christ; I thank God for Wally.

Ephesians 3:11-12 says,

“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”

As I looked at the number of individuals at Wally’s memorial, it was clear to see that, for Wally, it was all about growing the Kingdom, building up the Church in maturity by the authority of God’s Word, and building up in numbers. He used his gift well.

Wally Norling spread a very broad mantle during his ministry. Serving as pastor, superintendent of the Southwest District, church planter, interim pastor, and mentor he cast a very long shadow upon the EFCA.  I am privileged to have been under that mantle. But today I have surrendered my friend to his new home in the loving care of his Savior; he has finished well. And, as Wally would have wanted it, I give all the glory to his Lord Jesus Christ.

Wally lived by three guidelines: 1) Remember, you have nothing to prove. 2) Be transparent. 3) Be secure. You have nothing to prove; you belong to God, you have already won the prize. Be transparent, be real to those around you, God accepts you, so should they. Let God shine through you. Be secure – your portion, your inheritance is in God, not in what others think of you, or what you have done in your life.

All good words to consider.

Never downplay the affect you can have on others by using your God-given gift!

Here is another tribute to Wally from Brad Brison, another EFCA Pastor.

 

 

And He Sent a Wolf

By Pastor Kelly Larson (Bishop Creek Community Church, CA)European_grey_wolf_in_Prague_zoo

All in all, it had been a pretty good run, at least as far as church ministry goes.

My wife and I had been at Bishop Creek Community Church, in a beautiful area of central (eastern) California, for about six years and had seen the church grow considerably by God’s grace. We had good elders in place, children’s ministries were flourishing, and discipleship and small groups were growing.

The church was a “replant,” a rebooting of a church that had seen some pretty major leadership difficulties in its early years. It was a small church in a small town, but we had seen it grow from 10 to 20 people to a Sunday average of 75 regular attendees.

Things were going well. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, I began to feel a prompting to pray for protection. Protection? But why, Lord? We seem to be doing everything right, I thought. But that prompting continued. So, I began to pray for protection for our church from the outside, from the inside, and from myself.

As I continued to pray, lo and behold, there began a little unraveling along the edges of our church.

We had been meeting in a community center, enjoying the benefits of a great building and supporting our county. Out of the blue, we were abruptly given 60 days’ notice by the management. I was calm: we were used to moving; we had done it a number of times before and each time had continued to grow in the process. We landed safely in a new venue—or so I thought. Then a few more threads began to fray.

I felt frustrated and alarmed. Is this really how it’s supposed to work? I thought. After all, we had been faithful. Yes, we’d had a few hiccups along the way and made a few mistakes, but overall, we were walking the straight and narrow. Aren’t we, the faithful, supposed to be protected in the shadow of the Almighty?

Had I paid a little closer attention to the biblical witness, I would have remembered that where the Lord is at work, Satan can send a wolf.

Not sparing the flock

Paul cautioned the Ephesian elders to “be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:28-29). That’s an ugly scene described, but I realized that I was failing to prepare for the inevitable.

In the Garden, Satan came himself (Genesis 3). In the desert, he had sent Korah and others to thwart Moses (Numbers 16). In the desert, he came himself to tempt Jesus (Luke 4:1). In the midst of the work of Christ, he sent Judas (John 13:2). Paul had his Alexander to deal with (2 Timothy 4:14-15) and John had his Diotrephes (3 John 9-10). And so it was in the case of our little church.

When I look back, I can clearly see multiple “wolves” that had entered our little church to impede the work of the Lord. It wasn’t that we were pleasing the Lord that protected us; it was the fact that we were pleasing the Lord that prompted the attack by Satan.

Wolves in our midst

Years later, I believe that I see things a bit more clearly. Now I understand what had been going on right under my nose: Where Lord’s work is successful, Satan will send a wolf; in our case, he sent a small pack!

These “wolves” came in, almost imperceptibly, under the gate and through the fences of our church. Over a period of six months, the so-called casualties mounted. I began to hear stories. Regular attendees began to disappear. I began to scrutinize people a little more closely and began to notice that some of the laces on the sheep costumes had loosened a bit. I learned that wolves could come in all shapes and sizes, old and young, male and female, but all present themselves as sheep.

Why would wolves be attracted to our little church? People are curious. Perhaps many just wanted to learn what was going on in our congregation. Perhaps others came for a more metaphorical feast, as a pack commissioned by Satan bent on feeding their own appetites (Philippians 3:19).

During this difficult period, people sought to divide and devour, gossip and slander, and destroy the body of Christ. We had welcomed them, desiring to grow the church and inviting people to use their gifts; after all, isn’t that what you do? The road back was tough. We spoke to those we could, addressed some of the issues from the pulpit and continued to pray for sovereign protection. It was a painful time, with consequences for our little flock, but we survived, thanks to God’s abundant grace.

Growing as a shepherd

As I reflect on this time, I have become more guarded and scrutinizing of new people coming into the flock. I am always eager to welcome them and love on them, but “vetting” takes a bit longer now in our little sheepfold. Following the principle in Paul’s words to Timothy, “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin” (1 Timothy 5:22), I tend to be more cautious. Character is more difficult to discern than a person’s gifts.

I continue to examine the many passages of Scripture that caution against such canines within the walls of the church. I also hope that I am becoming a little wiser as a shepherd.

As a church, I am happy to say that we are better off now. We’re enjoying fruits of ministry once again, worshipping God, loving people and building mature disciples. We might be a smaller flock, but we’re healthier — and a little bit wiser now too. We know that as we continue to strive toward healthy ministry once again, we must be on our guard. In time, Satan could send another wolf or two.

[Kelly is an ordained minister with the Evangelical Free Church of America. Kelly and his wife, Suzanne, live in Bishop, California, where he is privileged to serve as the pastor to Bishop Creek Community Church. He blogs regularly at The Shepherd’s Pen.]

Not So Fast!

By Pastors Kelly Larson (Bishop Creek Community Church, CA)Calendar

Let’s say your church has been progressing nicely. Attendance is growing, and the community is flourishing. In the midst of this growth, your team decides that an additional staff person should be brought in to help ease the pressure on other leaders. You start to receive applications. He seems like a good fit. She has a strong résumé. Everyone cheerfully affirms the candidates.

The new hires all looked good on paper. But then, quite suddenly, things begin to unravel. In short order, it becomes clear that the new person is not a good fit. The church starts to experience divisions. People start leaving in droves. The district is called in to triage the damage.

Have you ever experienced this scenario at your church before?

It’s unfortunately a rather common occurrence, from my vantage point as a pastor. Why is this? The demands on a church are ever-present: There is always more ministry to be done, more people, more meetings, and yet a limited amount of precious time. Need is always knocking at the door. As my pastor used to say, “Sunday comes every three days!” Doesn’t it often feel like that?

As church leaders, we need help. In the spirit of Ephesians 4:14-16, we want to have “the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part,” which “causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” We’re eager to bring on great, God-honoring fellow leaders. But in our eagerness, we may prematurely appoint individuals to leadership roles.

In the rush to hire church staff or fellow church leaders, I confess that I’ve missed a few of the “obvious” red flags along the way. Some people were clearly desiring to serve from misguided motives. Some, perhaps, presented as gifted instructors or dynamic leaders or as having the perfect theological “pedigree,” but these gifts never made up for the lack of character that was eventually revealed.

I share this because it’s my fear that in our urgent desire to fill positions, we are tempted to compromise. Sometimes, we think the best of people, or we hope for the best. Sometimes this obscures sound, Spirit-led judgment.

Poring over profiles, checking out referrals and conducting multiple job interviews may not sound like the pinnacle of pastoral pleasure, but this kind of methodical, intentional engagement in the hiring process can spare the congregation immeasurable despair. Though the most sincere efforts do not guarantee the absence of any future trouble, we can have a clean conscience that we have been thorough and sought to abide by the counsel of Scripture.

Assessing character is slow work

We should give weight to someone’s background and training, but it takes a long longer to vet his or her character.

Endorsements and references are helpful, but they don’t take the place of observation and personal verification of Christian character. How often have we allowed years on a résumé or impressive seminary degrees to be substituted for a deep, thorough character assessment? It takes time to observe a person’s integrity; it takes time to assess character.

The words of Paul to Timothy serve as a helpful guide to those of us in a position to hire leaders: “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin” (1 Timothy 5:22; emphasis added). These are the wise words of a seasoned pastor to his protégé. Paul exhorts Timothy to avoid moving too quickly. In this way, he can protect his flock from future danger and chaos.

We ought to keep Paul’s words in mind when we consider hiring practices at our churches. Let’s be honest: Not everybody serving as a ministry leader should be serving as a ministry leader. Some have been squeezed in to fill a staff vacuum. Some were perhaps appointed because they exhibited a particular skill or had a great degree. Some had experience in another ministry. Some are there because a decision “had” to be made quickly. Many unfit leaders persist in roles that do not serve the body of Christ well. How many of these hires could have been avoided if we had followed Paul’s advice and taken our time?

Paul urges Timothy to consider many qualities in his fellow leaders: calling, competence, content, capability and, above all, character. These are in addition to the more “objective” requirements shared in Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and 1 Peter 5:1-4.

Talent or expertise never make up for a lack of character. Choosing men and women who will shepherd the flock requires careful observation and discernment.

The time it takes is the time it takes.

How should you vet candidates for roles in your church if you feel pressured to act quickly? Remember: You’re not on the clock, even if it feels like you are. The time it takes is the time it takes.

Some counsel to consider in this process:

  1. Never be in a hurry to make a mistake. It’s much more difficult to remove someone from ministry than it is to put them there. It is far better to leave the position open and struggle than to fill it and kill it with the wrong person.
  2. Don’t make the decision alone. Lean on others for perspective and counsel. And ask loads of questions.
  3. Start looking at potential candidates long before the position needs to be filled.
  4. Pray continually for the right person and for the candidates before you. Trust in God’s hand in this process.

Finding the right leader matters. It matters if the person is a denominational leader, a teaching pastor, an elder, a deacon, a worship leader, a Sunday school teacher or a children’s ministry staff member. Every person we bring on the team matters. Deciding to hire anyone in the church should be a decision that urges us all to act with prayerful judgment and wisdom.

We take our time in the hiring process because we love the Shepherd, and we love the sheep. We move slowly because it’s not a race; it’s ministry.

[Kelly is an ordained minister with the Evangelical Free Church of America. Kelly and his wife, Suzanne, live in Bishop, California, where he is privileged to serve as the pastor to Bishop Creek Community Church. He blogs regularly at The Shepherd’s Pen.]

The Preaching Sandbox

ColinSmithPastor Colin Smith (The Orchard Church, Chicago)

Here is a super helpful framework for Biblical preaching from one of the great expositors in our movement:

The Preaching Sandbox

This tool makes it clear that the central priority in preaching is to exalt Jesus Christ. “We proclaim Him!” “We resolved to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified.” Do your messages move people to worship Jesus? Do they lift up the Lord so He can draw people to Himself?

With that primary goal in mind, the sandbox provides a four part evaluation:

  • Is it Biblical – does it clearly emerge from Scripture and press home the key phrases in your text?
  • Is it Theological – does it teach an important doctrine, helping people believe and apply it?
  • Is it Clear – is it well organized and easy for people to follow?
  • Is it Compelling – is it well illustrated to drive home the key points?

If you are not familiar with the ministry of Colin Smith check out his online ministry at Unlocking the Bible. Born and raised in Scotland, Colin served for 16 years at Enfield E Free Church in London, then came to Arlington Heights E Free in 1996 where he continues to serve. He has been shaped by the old British Puritans (John Owen, Robert Murray M’Cheyne) and the great European Reformers, plus more recent Bible preachers like Martin Lloyd Jones and theologians like A.W. Pink.

One of his most helpful Bible studies is called Momentum. With a very user friendly video format it walks you through the Beatitudes as a sequential pathway to change. This year Colin and his team set up an evangelistic site called Open The Bible to support a one year sermon series through Scripture. “The whole Bible is one story and it all points to Jesus.”

Feed the Sheep that Come

ewe-and-lamb-version-2By Pastor Kelly Larson (Bishop Creek Community Church, CA)

Serving a church in a geographically remote small town presents no small amount of challenges.

Perhaps the most obvious challenge is the simple number of people available for any given church event. When my family relocated from a metropolitan church, which was itself larger than the entire city that surrounded it, to a charming town in the Eastern Sierras, you could imagine that a certain “adjustment” would be required. When I looked out over the new congregation from the pulpit on my very first Sunday, I could see that this was an understatement.

Any given Sunday tended to yield between 20 and 50 worshippers. Sometimes, I found myself counting the bodies who weren’t there as opposed to those who were. In a large church, 25 people may not be missed, but in a church of our size, even 5 absent people were oh-so obvious.

I’m sad to say that my mood was often altered by a lower headcount on Sundays. Hey, where was everybody? I’d think. I’m here; why aren’t they? I spent a lot of time working on this sermon! The truth was, it was just a small town. People had places to go and family to see. Some had medical appointments, many of which happened out of town. Some people, still in town, had other things going on.

I am still aware of low numbers, of course, but I had an epiphany several years back. It was this: Feed the sheep that come.

The sheep who didn’t show up wouldn’t receive whatever had been prepared for that morning’s service, but I had to ask myself: Were the ones who showed up deserving of my somewhat sour attitude? Were the people here still going to get the very best of what God had given to me?

Truly, there was only one answer. God had placed me here. The flock had come to be nourished.

God said in Jeremiah, “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). God has allowed me to be the one who fed the sheep that day. If our hearts are seeking after the heart of God, our desire will be to nurture those sheep, any sheep, in Christ, walking them just a little closer to the Chief Shepherd than they were when they first came through the door.

There are many reasons why those pews may not be filled. I’d guess that it’s this way all across the globe: Some sheep will make it to the fold on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening or whenever, and others will not. Life is busy; time is being eaten away on our calendars. It’ll be this way until the Lord returns in glory.

It may be a small worship service turnout. It may be a few souls who make their way to a prison Bible study. It may be a little midweek gathering of two or three people. It may be a couple of small lambs in a Sunday school class. It may be simply one willing disciple ready to learn. No matter how many people are there, never underestimate those souls whom Christ has entrusted to your care that day.

If you have been called to shepherd, never forget and never take lightly the divine commission to oversee His flock. I think of the great words of Christ to Peter in John 21: “Do you love me?” “Tend my lambs.” “Do you love me?” “Shepherd my sheep.” “Do you love me?” “Tend my sheep” (John 21:15-17).

Do you love Him? Feed the sheep that come.

[Kelly is an ordained minister with the Evangelical Free Church of America. Kelly and his wife, Suzanne, live in Bishop, California, where he is privileged to serve as the pastor to Bishop Creek Community Church. He blogs regularly at The Shepherd’s Pen.]

 

The Call of the Shepherd

By Pastor Kelly Larson (Bishop Creek Community Church, CA)Shepherd

In my office upon the wall, near the door hangs a picture; it is a gift I received from a friend shortly after entering the pastorate. It serves as a sober reminder of the privileged call which God has placed upon my life. It is a reminder as I leave for the day, and as I return from the battle in which I am engaged – a battle which is consuming, in time and energy, and at times, in casualties.

You see it is a simple picture, perhaps from the early 1920’s of a sheepdog, perched upon a rock formation intently monitoring a flock of sheep, perhaps thirty or so in number, in the dell below. The sheep are intently gazing to the north, the setting sun falling behind the outcropping of trees in the distance. It is a picture by R.A. Fox entitled “A Reliable Guardian.” So, why would a picture like this affect me so?

It is a reminder of the calling God has placed upon me to be an under-shepherd to the flock of Christ. It is a sober alert of the ever-present threat upon the body of Christ in our post-Christian culture, to protect the flock, from the outside, from the inside, and even from themselves.

When God called me to be a shepherd, I believe he was not looking simply for a “leader”; he was looking for a shepherd. He was not looking for a great communicator, speaker, or an orator, catalyst, strategist, CEO type who has been a part of Fortune 500, or facilitator; or even a teacher. He was looking for a pastor who could effectively handle the word of God in his communication, and walk alongside the sheep for the journey. He was not looking for a “strategist to conceptualize, implement and assign analytically synthesized congregational components conducive to systematic holiness paradigms” – once again, he was looking for a shepherd to foster a love of God and others. I am not saying those gifts aren’t useful, or that they may not eventually translate into effective shepherding, but they are not in themselves, shepherding. A shepherd shepherds.

Congregants are not simply components of a church equation, they are people whom God has placed under our care, custody and authority – to love, nurture, and grow into the image of Christ. I think of a Shepherd dog, Lydia, here in Bishop. As a shepherding dog with shepherding in her DNA, and being around livestock it was her routine to surround and motivate all able parties in her scope of influence to move toward the shepherd of the home, my friend Laura. As Laura would walk, or even when she sat Lydia herded chickens, pheasants, cattle, other dogs and yes, even toddlers closer and closer to her master. I remember she even tried to herd me closer to Laura. That was her task, and she took it seriously. Half of the time, I don’t think all those creatures even realized she was very intentional to bring everything around closer to the shepherd of the home, but she did.  I have been reminded of that commission more than once, that it is my privilege as under-shepherd to move God’s sheep, a little closer to the Chief Shepherd.

“Tend my lambs,” “Shepherd my sheep,” “Tend my sheep.” Taken to heart, these are some of the most sobering words of pastoral commission to fall upon any shepherd’s ears. These words of Christ to Peter in John 21:15-18 are still an unfathomable conundrum to me. The difficulty is not solely in understanding their content, but in understanding their desired conduct to affect that obedience; how I am to obey them – feeding and shepherding the sheep in God’s flock.

Somehow, I’m guessing that I am not alone; an understanding of our own great deficiencies hits us all too often.  You don’t have to be in pastoral ministry too long before you become keenly sympathetic to those who have pioneered before you and decided that teaching is more the preferred calling. Or that writing is more in line with leading a serene and peaceful life. It comes as no surprise the discouraging statistics of pastoral “wreckage” strewn alongside the highway of ministry that cause some to find employment in a more secular vocation. If we were to rely on statistics alone, they are certainly against us. Suffice it to say that the career lifespan of a pastor is a challenge.

Coming out of Bible college, or the Academy, I felt that if I could just exposit the word with authority; if I could rightly divide God’s word, people would flock into the church and willfully surrender to the transformational truths of biblical teaching. Coming out of the Academy, we are naively ready to launch into virtually anything shepherding has for us.

I loved seminary, yet one thing it often fails to identify is that the sheep in the Kingdom are a very specialized hybrid-highly intelligent, at times carnivorous, and have an incredible desire to exercise their free wills. I have been lied to, lied about, maligned, ignored, gossiped about, slandered, and threatened, and that’s on a good day – what pastor hasn’t? Moses dealt with this. In Exodus, he is advocating for the sheep who God is desiring to terminate. Yet, only chapters later he is crying out to the Lord to deliver him from the stiff-neck people.

The truth is that, in our humanity, we sometimes minister to people daily who we may not particularly like so much, care for, or are drawn to. We are seeking to lead sheep who do not want to be led; to feed sheep who do not want to eat, and to tend those who by no means want to be tended to. I find it interesting how congregants want to hold pastors to some measure of biblical leadership, yet disallow themselves to be held to any measure of biblical discipleship or stewardship. So effectively, people who do not want to be taught or led, nor accountable. We are discouraged by the empty seats on Sunday rather than encouraged by the one which is filled. We have difficulty recognizing true transformational growth in the flock.

Like Moses, we ask, “Lord, why did you call me?” Sometimes we get to the point where we ask ourselves, “What am I doing?” “What am I doing here?” Or maybe,  “What did I do wrong to get here?”

Like Peter we affirm our love for Christ, yet are ill-equipped to fulfill with complete integrity and faithfulness the mantle of service to the Lord and His flock.

Be that as it may, what an honor it is to be called to feed the sheep that come. Still, we know we have received a privileged call to shepherd his sheep, to walk alongside, to walk them home. But we can’t change the sheep – that is up to the Holy Spirit and the obedience of the sheep. We can’t change the culture of the church, at least overnight. So, we need to be content to change that which we can.

Maybe you are just beginning your sojourn of ministry. Maybe you’ve been on it a while, a little closer to the goal line.  Maybe you’re in a time of blessing, or a time of challenge. Maybe you are in need of a little encouragement, well-intentioned souls to encourage you. Either way, The EFCA Network is intended to help you, even encourage you in your pastoral journey, and hopefully let you know that others have walked, and are walking the same terrain.

[Kelly Larson is an ordained minister with the Evangelical Free Church of America. He completed his PhD in Systematic Theology at South African Theological Seminary in 2015, and he holds an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Kelly and his wife Suzanne live in Bishop, California where he is privileged to serve as the pastor to Bishop Creek Community Church. He blogs regularly at TheShepherdsPen.com.]

Your Free Church Hero?

The Network Board is searching for stories! Who is your Free Church hero? We are mainly looking for stories of men and women who are retired from active ministry or who have gone home to the Lord.

Who inspired you? Who helped you become the leader you are? Who taught you and showed you what the EFCA was all about?

Please record a video of you telling your story, upload it to google drive or dropbox and  and send the shareable link to efcanetwork@gmail.com. We will compile these stories into collections and post them to our blog and a video page on the site.