Monday, August 7, 2017

Dear Pastor: Your Shepherd and Overseer Will Make You a Shepherd and Overseer

I have long complained to God that he has chosen to not give me in-person mentors/disciplemakers who would address my soul-condition with the deliberate aim of helping me grow up in Christ.[1]

In fact, I have had occasion to go to older pastors in my life and describe things I was dealing with only to hear them tell me they had never heard of such things and then leave me and never speak to me again.

While God has regularly addressed my lament with assurances of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, yesterday he ministered this to my soul in a profoundly comforting way. It was in a visit to this teaching of God’s word:

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.[2]

This is a reminder to the church that Jesus is not only our example of enduring unjust suffering for doing good, but he is our means of enduring unjust suffering for doing good.[3] As Paul said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”[4] This includes those times when we suffer as a result of anything good we do in Jesus’ name.

What God ministered to me so personally was the deliberate expression that we have returned to Jesus as “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Although Jesus does work through members of his body to shepherd and oversee our souls in their use of the spiritual gifts they have been given,[5] there is always this overriding reality that it is Jesus himself who is our Shepherd and Overseer.

This means that, no matter how much we lack of members of the body of Christ personally watching over our souls, any man serving the church as a pastor has a Shepherd and Overseer who is able to give all the shepherding and overseeing we could ever need, even if he chooses to do this without the involvement of the shepherds and overseers within his body.

At the time this spoke to me I was also very mindful of Jesus’ imagery of the vine and the branches in John 15. It is as we abide in the vine that we bear much fruit. There is no experience of lack of attachment to people that can stop us from abiding in Jesus and bearing much fruit. There is no amount of unjust suffering that can diminish our relationship to Jesus as the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. Jesus is the true vine, we are his branches, and even unshepherded shepherds can be all the shepherd and overseer they ought to be by abiding in the Shepherd and Overseer of our own souls.

This also connected to the glorious picture of Romans 5 in which we are told that, “hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”[6] Again, this hope is in reference to suffering. As our hope is not diminished in the least when we suffer unjustly, so our experience of the love of God that is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit is sufficient for us to serve as shepherds and overseers of the flock.

In other words, abiding in Christ as the true vine is not hindered by bad experiences with people, or people in our lives failing to give us what their place in the body of Christ should have provided, or churches that have hurt us as pastors, or us hurting ourselves through our failures in ministry to churches, or any other personal testimony we could give of someone failing us or doing us wrong.

The message is that the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls will so shepherd and oversee every pastor who abides in him as a branch in the vine so that we can then fulfill our entire ministry as men who “are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”[7]

What Jesus will do in disciplining those pastors who must give account to him of their failures in our lives is really none of our business. We cannot excuse our failures with theirs or anyone else’s.

Instead, we must look to the Shepherd and Overseer of our own souls as the true vine who will enable us to branch out and serve as shepherds and overseers of the souls of others. This will include pouring out our complaints before him when certain days make us feel so abandoned by people who should have loved us more than they did,[8] and it will include “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”[9]

While this may involve requests that God would please give us men who will shepherd and oversee our own souls, it will more be directed at asking God to please give us such an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ that his shepherding and overseeing of our souls will flow through us into our participation in shepherding and overseeing the souls of others.

For me, this has become a ministry to my soul that, whenever I am tempted to look away from Christ in some complaint, or some sarky attraction, or some sinful snare, I will find victory as I look to the Shepherd and Overseer of my soul instead.[10] As the victory of this faith strengthens and matures me in Christ, I will then see how to bless others with my personal involvement in their lives for the care of their souls.

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] I avail myself of the ministries and resources provided by God’s servants who seek to shepherd and oversee the church through their books, podcasts, and videos. However, I have not had this kind of in-person shepherding/overseeing ministry where someone addressed my soul-condition in the way I imagine a pastor would relate to things I have experienced throughout my life.
[2] I Peter 2:25
[3] This is what Peter addresses in I Peter 2:18-25
[4] Philippians 4:13
[5] Ephesians 4:11-16 shows Jesus’ blueprint for the way leaders equip the flock for ministry that builds up the whole body of Christ.
[6] Romans 5:5
[7] Hebrews 13:17
[8] Laying our complaint before God is expressed in such places as, Psalm 102:1; 142:2; Jeremiah 12:1. Presenting a lament about the condition of the people of God is expressed very personally in the book of Lamentations.
[9] Addressing specific complaints and laments as we pour out our hearts to God leads into the more positive focus of prayer as given by Paul in Philippians 4:4-8 in which we present everything to God in all kinds of prayers and requests, with thanksgiving, knowing that we can experience the peace of Christ through our abiding relationship with him, even while we wait to see how he will answer our prayers.
[10] I John 5:4 identifies that it is our faith that gives us victory over the world. Everything God teaches us about abiding in Jesus as the true vine, and as the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, is an issue of faith. Instead of losing faith because of people who have wronged us, let us down, or failed us, Jesus is glorious enough to fill us with faith as we keep our eyes fixed on him (see Hebrews 12:1-3). 

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