I think of all those things and empathy. Jesus did more than sympathize with people, He felt what they felt.
This is an integral part of why God came to earth as a human (Hebrews 2:14-18). He identified with humanity.
This simple truth should be a great comfort to all who trust in Jesus as their shepherd.
Empathy or apathy?
The heart of a shepherd is not reserved for pastors and leaders alone. It is something every believer is to have—everyone who trusts in Jesus as their savior and their shepherd (Phil 2:1-5). (Tweet or Share this)
The opposite of empathy would be apathy—an indifference to others and their condition. This, of course, is not the heart of a shepherd. (Tweet or Share this) Yet sadly, we're more inclined to it than empathy.
You've probably seen people at a traffic signal with signs asking for help. What's your response? Do you look the other way, or check your mirror or cell phone? Perhaps you roll your window down and give them something. Or, you want to give them something, but you don't want to be the one holding up traffic when the light changes. Yep, I've done them all.
This past week I enjoyed lunch with a pastor friend and his wife. We talked about leadership and pastoral care, along with the challenges of pastoring a church.
Pastoral ministry is challenging. Whether a ministry is successful or struggling, there are challenges. (Tweet or Share this) Because of significant cultural changes over the past few decades, the landscape of church ministry seems pretty competitive. People, in general, are more likely to shop around for what fits them rather than commit to a community of believers. (Tweet or Share this)
You might say it shouldn't be this way. Who's to blame? Why is it that way? It really doesn't matter, it "is as it is," as so often said today. But is it?
As my friend shared about their background and experience, and their ministry, I saw their hearts. They both had shepherd's hearts. They cared for the people God brought into their path with a genuine care. I've seen it in action.
The hard part for them is existence as a viable church. By viable I mean able to pay the monthly bills and continue to minister to people. Compassion costs. The cost isn't measured in dollars and cents, but it takes its toll on those moved by it. (Tweet or Share this) It also requires some funding to keep it all going.
The other challenge is the comparison challenge. Whether we like it or not, churches are evaluated by what they offer to those who would attend. This is where the shopping angle comes in. It's easy to express opinions on the rightness or wrongness of it, but it doesn't resolve anything.
Numbers and souls
I admire and appreciate my friend and his wife. I applaud them. I also empathize with them.
I knew success as a pastor of a church, as it is often described—popularity (numbers), fruitfulness, and respect. But I knew the other side of it, as well—comparisons, lack of growth (numbers), and disdain. The other side was not fun. It raised a lot of questions. Am I cut out for this? What am I doing wrong? What can we do better and different as a church? (Tweet or Share this)
But are these the right questions to ask? Did Jesus ask questions like these? We know it was a continuing battle to keep His disciples seeing leadership as He did (Mark 10:42-45). Yet Jesus was consistent in His compassion for people.
Numbers are overvalued. We put way too much emphasis on them. (Tweet or Share this) Numbers can be a justification for any situation—that we are doing something right, or that we're doing something wrong. (Tweet or Share this)
At conferences or seminars one of the most common questions among pastors is, "So... how many are you running on Sunday mornings?" It's that comparison thing again.
And while we're on the subject, how about numbers of conversions? How many got saved last week? Isn't that the bottom line for the kingdom?
It's easy to be more concerned with how many souls are brought into the kingdom, than about who they are. (Tweet or Share this) CS Lewis said, "You don't have a soul You are a soul. You have a body." I'm concerned that churches are more concerned with the body count than the souls themselves. (Tweet or Share this)
Jesus the Good Shepherd
Jesus cared about each person. This was demonstrated over and over again in the gospels. He is the Good Shepherd and knows those who follow Him. This is a shepherd's heart. (Tweet or Share this)
I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep as the Father knows me. My sheep know me as I know the Father. (John 10:14 GW)
Have you developed a heart like Jesus as one of His followers? It's no instant zap of maturity that hits us. It's the fruit of knowing Jesus in an intimate way. (Tweet or Share this) The numbers? They'll take care of themselves. The people like lost sheep? They need our attention.
We need to become more like Jesus—full of compassion, kindness, and mercy—worked into us, so we can reach out to others. (Tweet or Share this)