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Stinking Beautiful Sheep

January 5, 2011

Pastors everywhere, love your sheep.  Look at the flock God has given you stewardship over and let your heart melt for them.  They are yours.  It is your job to find their beauty and celebrate it until it is nurtured into a movement of transformation in their lives.  You can’t lead them if you don’t love them. 

The war between congregations and pastors has to come to an end.  I speak not as one in the midst of a war with my congregation.  I speak as one who is experiencing the sweetness of trust and affection.  It isn’t the stench of religious power struggles that motivates me in this moment.  I am motivated by the fragrance of a true faith-community full of love and purpose.  It’s just too good not to have in your church (if you attend somewhere besides Heartland)! 

I have watched my pastor-peers drop like flies.  Many of them are still serving in church positions, but the passion of Christ’s revolution has been surgically removed by battles imbued with church criticism and competitions for control.  I have had my own moments in which a “passionectomy” almost occurred.  I almost became a “career boy” who punches a timecard.  Trust me, the other (sweet) side of a loving flock, and engaging a purposeful partnership that comes with true koinonia, is wonderful.  I want it for all my pastor-peers.

Peter challenges pastors to “shepherd the flock” like the “Chief Shepherd” — who is Jesus (1 Peter 5:1-4).  There is no doubt in my mind that the “shepherd” reference comes from Jesus’ parable of the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-21), which Peter would have heard first-hand.  Jesus differentiates between the good shepherd and the hireling.  The good shepherd owns the sheep, loves the sheep, and because they are his, he also is willing to lay down his life for them.  The hireling is punching a timecard and collecting pay.  He doesn’t love the sheep, and so when the wolf comes, he runs and leaves the sheep in a vulnerable position. 

Bitterness is not a good house to live in.  Christian leaders will be tempted, after much criticism and rejection, to turn into hirelings.  This happens when we lose our love for the sheep.  Rarely is love talked about as a leadership quality, but for the pastor it is the greatest of leadership gifts (1 Corinthians 13).  Paul easily could have said something like this in 1 Corinthians 13:  “Though you have an abundance of delegation and equipping skills, and though you command the respect and attention of all; without love you are still a hireling.”  I have been present while leaders of churches gather together only to pour out the acid of their own wounds onto one another by speaking in condescending terms about the very sheep to which they are called.  I’ve probably joined in.  Chief Shepherd calls me to think about how I think and talk about my sheep. 

If you are a church leader, I am asking you to stop reading right now and ask God to put the love of the Chief Shepherd in you for your sheep.  

Love doesn’t mean that you don’t hold authority.  However,  you are not ready to issue authority until you thoroughly love the people you lead.  In fact, what authority will you have if you don’t have love.  No sheep is going to assign his or her protection to a hireling.  With love comes authority. 

Love doesn’t have to be a toxic enmeshment or stem from the need to please people.  In fact, that sort of love may not be love at all.  More than likely, this scenario is a consumer mentality that uses the sheep for our own self-worth.   However, love does mean that, even though the people you serve are frail and stray away, you maintain the vision of Christ’s redemption when you think of them.  All of humanity is accompanied by the stench of sin and frailty; it is our calling to see the beauty beyond this sour smell. 

This is the paradox of love for the Christian leader:  we love stinking, beautiful sheep.  Through grace, we love folks who have the power to hurt us, to fail in their own lives, and to even resist us.  That sounds amazingly similar to what Christ has done for us.  It sounds like grace.  It sounds like the cross. 

My heart swells and my joy is running over the rim of my cup.  It’s messy joy that is splattering all over the place.  It all comes from the incredible partnership I have with the leaders and congregation at Heartland.  You are one stinking, beautiful church!  I love you.

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