Technology has proven a tremendous gift of God during the current pandemic. As we settle into this new reality, many of us ministry leaders are thanking God for the ability to go online. Communication is possible even when corporately gathering is not. But what about the pastor who has no internet connection to his people? What about this considerable group of people who cannot hear or see their shepherd? How might this ministry leader process the anxiety, burden and concern for his people? Perhaps it is a time to remember that the pastor is an under-shepherd of Christ. Perhaps this is the pathway to rebuilding confidence in Jesus Christ as the Chief Shepherd of his people.
You Can Still Be Faithful
Offline Pastor, I want to remind you that you can have a clear conscience before God if you have been faithful in your task.
The two letters to the Thessalonians are an excellent example of the relationship between a faithful pastor and his flock. In these letters, Paul describes his own gentleness as a “nursing mother,” while his firm encouragement to them is described as “a father with his children” (1 Thessalonians 2:6-12). One concludes that as pastoral theologians have always said: the faithful shepherd smells like his sheep. But what about shepherding during this pandemic, when the sheep are inaccessible?
You can have a clear conscience before God if you have been faithful in your task
I think that the apostle’s address to the Ephesian elders contains a few helpful hints. Paul has a clear conscience concerning his past ministry to the Ephesian elders based on his previous faithfulness as an under-shepherd:
- He persevered in ministry through humble service (Acts 20:19)
- He declared in public and private the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:20, 27)
Paul was able, in that tear filled farewell, to say, “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all” (Acts 20:26).
The Chief Shepherd is at Work
We live within a church culture and African worldview that work together to deify the “man of God”. But the Bible reminds us that pastors or elders are merely under-shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4).
In essence, we are unworthy servants pointing our people to the suffering Servant King, Jesus Christ. He is Israel’s Chief Shepherd. He is the one whom Isaiah 40:11 tells us works among his chosen people to do the following 4 things.
- Tend his sheep
- Gather the lamb in his hands
- Carry them close to his heart
- Gently lead them
The Chief Shepherd communicates to and clothes his sheep with care, protection, warmth and gentleness. Thus, Isaiah’s cry, and together with him the pastor’s cry, is: “Behold your God” (Isaiah 40:9-10).
He will lead us through this pestilence and pandemic. Pastor, behold your God
Our Shepherd King has a great track record in the midst of deep waters, discouraging storms and destructive fires. He shepherded his people Israel through the desert and back from exile. He has led his Church throughout persecutions and martyrdoms. Therefore he will lead us through this pestilence and pandemic. Pastor, behold your God.
It’s Not Your Ministry
In his book Dangerous Calling, Paul Tripp masterfully reminds us pastors that one of our biggest idols is finding security in ‘our’ ministry. Perhaps COVID-19 is God’s providential hand in bringing us low and into his presence. For in it we are reminded that we are also sheep. This reminder should be ringing in our ears every morning when we rise from our beds and every night that our eyes shut is that God is in control.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, in question 11, “What are God’s works of providence?” The answer: “God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise and powerful acts of preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions.” In his holiness, wisdom and power, dear Pastor, God still holds you. Despite the unfamiliar territory. Even here, the Chief Shepherd is at work.
In the present pandemic we are reminded that we are also sheep
The Pastor’s Twofold Task
Paul reminds us of the two tasks of pastoral ministry: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you an overseer, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Such spiritually weighty, blood bought and eternal realities are primed upon this twofold task: (1) Pay careful attention to yourself and (2) pay careful attention to the flock.
While we navigate the latter task let us not second-guess the necessity of the former. Dear offline pastor, take care of yourself. COVID-19 is God’s wise hand in giving you room to breathe and in leading you deeper into his presence.
A Crown Awaits You
Finally, we must turn to that familiar pastoral ‘job description’ in 1 Peter 5:1-3. For by it we will remember the heart and end goal of all pastoral ministry.
When you rest in a clear conscience due to your past faithfulness, and as you seek personal renewal, you can be sure: “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4). It has always been about the Chief Shepherd. At the end of your pastoral ministry, whether that is sooner or later, it is the Chief Shepherd who will receive both you and your people.
At the end of your pastoral ministry, whether that is sooner or later, it is the Chief Shepherd who will receive both you and your people
The New City Catechism reminds us of this great hope that we have. Its first question asks: “What is our only hope in life and death?” The answer is a balm for weary souls and pastors, “That we are not our own, but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Be Assured, We Have a Great Chief Shepherd
Offline pastor, please hear this reminder. Do not be anxious about your lack of technological tools. Do not fear the unfamiliar online platforms. A pastor friend of mine told me how bad it feels to have a member who has lost a loved one yet he is unable to be there for them due to the government restrictions. There are so many complexities in pastoral care in these days. But what we can be sure of is that we have a great Chief Shepherd.
He intricately knows and cares for his sheep and his under-shepherds. As you wisely navigate how to continue to shepherd your people, remember that at the end of it all, Jesus Christ is the Chief Shepherd. Allow him to shepherd you and your people afresh, in light of these times.