Pastors of the Scattered Flock
We recently finished watching The War, a Ken Burns documentary that is about as long as World War II itself was. The sheer number of people killed was unimaginable. An estimated 50-60 million worldwide lost their lives. The economics of war are utilitarian by necessity: some die so that more may live. Greatest good for the greatest number, and all that. You’re going to lose a lot of men, but that’s the price of winning a war you can’t afford to lose.
Later in The War, as landing parties leapfrogged from one island to another in the Pacific theater, officers were told to expect to lose up to 8 out of 10 men trying to take this beach or that one. Needless to say, that was an unsettling prediction to hear. In anticipation of the number of casualties it would cost to take the main islands of Japan, about half a million Purple Heart medals were made. That supply has not yet been exhausted.
Planning for inevitable loss is a cold mathematics. Accepting its solution is the sign of a grim maturity.
How surprising, then, to see Jesus suggesting a different calculation: leave the 99 to save the 1. A shepherd cannot leave the 99, the whole flock, to save just the 1. The 99 are more important, if only by because there are more of them. But Jesus shows us a God who is not accommodated to loss. A God who came to seek and to save that which was lost. A God who is quite defiant in the face of death.
The shepherd who leaves the 99 to seek the 1 is Jesus, the one who claimed he was doing what God said he alone would do. The prophet Jeremiah promised that the one who scattered Israel would soon gather them together and be their shepherd. Jesus came and called himself the Good Shepherd, the Lead Pastor.
But when he saw the people harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, he asked for more workers to be sent. He asked for more pastors of the scattered flock, who will seek and save in his name. And he had a dualistic perspective on that ministry: “Whoever will not gather with me scatters.” As is common to dualistic presentations, they beg for a decision.
Today the word ‘gathering’ has become church-speak for “get together with other Christians.” We talk about scattering less, and with anxiety. We’ll do it if we have to (and we’re not sure we have to). Both are passive. We are not gathering anything, but are the ones gathered. We are not scattering anything, but are the ones scattered apart from each other. As recipients of the gospel, this is of course the way it should be. Jesus came to gather what was lost, and that includes us.
But Jesus expects us not just to be gathered together, and not just to be scattered (awaiting the time when we get gathered again). He invites us to actively gather with him.
It’s the difference between being churched and being the church. The former means that we come to a building or program to have professionals do churchy stuff to us. (And yes, I meant for that to sound creepy.) Being the church means that we understand ministry is the task of the whole body, and as Paul told the Ephesians, Christ has provided different graces to equip the body to be able to do ministry.
You wouldn’t recommend a family pattern in which one member does all the chores while everyone else watches (and discusses whether or not that person attained to the various standards of cleanliness the rest of the family holds). Similarly, if one part of your body just stopped functioning, you would go to someone who could get that part working again. But when we see ministry as the special task of a few called pastors, it’s just like choosing the absurd option in each of the examples.
Being the church means performing your bodily function. (I just heard it, too….) It means actively going with Jesus to gather the lost sheep, not just passively being gathered together once a week. Gathering happens in the context of being scattered.
We are all shepherds, which is just another way of saying pastor. What parish have you been assigned to? Maybe it’s your neighborhood, or your office building. Who is your flock? Maybe it’s a network of friendships, an artist community, or a non-profit in the area. Is the thought of losing even one of your flock so disconcerting to you that you would be willing to leave the 99 to seek the 1? Would you be willing to skip going to church if it turned out the 1 would meet you for breakfast every Sunday morning? We’re actually losing more than that. Only about 20% of Americans go to church on any given Sunday. If we’re losing 8 out of 10, why do so few feel unsettled? Leave the 99 to find the 1? More like leave the 20 to find the 80.
If we will not be pastors of the scattered flock, shepherds who go with Jesus to gather what has been lost, then we are working against him. Imagine that. Could all of our emphasis on being gathered actually put us at odds with our Lead Pastor, who wants us to gather with him? Or, think of it another way: Is it possible that participating in all the programs a full-service church has to offer might ironically make us less like Jesus, even if we seem to know more about him?
Great points! I’ve been thinking about some of this lately- another way I’ve heard it put it that the one day a week we traditionally gather together and get pastored/churched- the Sabbath- is so that we can spiritually rest and recharge, so to speak, only to then go out and spend ourselves fully the other six days a week for the Kingdom. The point was something about how church/recharging can’t be the end-all for Christians. I forget- there was probably a corny iPod analogy in there somewhere. Anyway, I really liked (if that’s the right word) the 20-80 thing. Powerful stuff.
Today Pastor Mark and I were going to a pastors’ lunch at the local Catholic hospital, and Stephanie happened to be driving behind us with Eden. Here’s [something like] the conversation they had:
Eden: Where are they going?
Stephanie: To the hospital for a pastors’ lunch.
Eden: I want to go, too.
Stephanie: We can’t go, it’s only for pastors.
Eden: It’s only for pastors? Well, what are the girls called?
Stephanie: Girls can be pastors, too. A pastor is someone who leads a church.
Eden: We lead a church, Mama.
Stephanie: You’re right… I guess we’re pastors.
Eden: Let’s go to lunch!
This from the little mystic who wanted to know when she would get her new body after dying. We asked her who told her about getting a new body, and she said Jesus told her.
I’m trying to puzzle out what you mean by this: “A God who is quite defiant in the face of death.” What does that mean? I guess one could consider Yahweh defiant of death in a way that doesn’t really do anything to prevent the premature deaths of his sheep today. Maybe you’re only talking about the distant past or about after people die. But if I was defiant of death (I am) then I’d do everything within my power (not too much, sadly) to prevent the deaths of people I love. If I had the power to prevent a death and I didn’t do it, then I wouldn’t expect people to think very highly of me.
“A God who is quite defiant in the face of death” is meant to contrast Jesus’ concern for loss of human life with my lack of concern. It shows that the threshold for acceptable loss I have doesn’t match his. Jesus’ compassion is challenging me here.
Death here is a broader category, an existential reality and not just physical dying. The earliest Christians proclaimed that Jesus had defeated death (often personified as an enemy) while recognizing that people still die. So on the one hand, Jesus is more satisfying in his defiance of death because he’s the one with the actual power to conquer death. That makes him superior to you and me, whose only hope is perhaps to be something like Camus’s rebel who lives in defiance of a universe that takes no notice.
But I will grant you that even a single death presents a real problem to any tidy doctrine. Harmonizing bitter realities with simple formulations is also unsatisfying, and probably not motivated by the compassion Jesus showed. Whatever problems are created by believing in a good and powerful God in the face of an unflinching accounting of human misery, the real point of the gospel is that a remedy has come. Death is, ultimately, out of place in creation.
Very thought provoking, if we are all shepherds, does that happen when we accept Christ? I cannot see sending a sheep out to find another sheep, now I have two lost sheep; sheep are not very bright by nature. The Bible is clear that Christ is the good Shepherd and we are the sheep. Where does the equipping come into play? It is Christ who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV) Christ has and is equipping this list of some not all.
I would argue that we are not all pastors but that pastors are our leaders who equip the laity (not sheep, see definition of sheep above) for works of service. Gift-people (our pastors) are “to prepare God’s people for works of service” Leaders are not to do the work of the ministry; leaders are to prepare the laity to minister (The Teacher’s Commentary). Now, I agree that we the laity must move on from that preparation and be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us (1 Peter 3:15). When we have become mature and attained the whole measure of the fullness of Christ, a tall order, then we may be able to skip a gathering or two.
Hebrews 10:25-24 (I turned them around, I hope there are no contextual issues) says: 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. In referring to the Second Advent, the writer left the impression he was concerned that genuine believers might cease to hope for the Lord’s coming and be tempted to defect from their professions of faith in Christ (The Bible Knowledge Commentary). The second coming is what it is all about; He has defeated death, creation restored. The encouraging, spurring, and equipping does take place in the local church and I do not feel I can skip that gathering. Now, does that have to happen on Sunday? No. I can see where the Evangelical Church could use some dusting off or shaking up and maybe we need to gather on Saturday and leave Sunday as a day of rest, meet our neighbor for breakfast. Moreover, I prefer to call my gathering “worship” where I am encouraged, equipped, and refreshed to be Christ like 24/7 /365. Therefore, I am not ready to take the “Go to Church on Sunday” off Stan’s Plan for 2012 just yet. I am encouraged by your faith. Thank you for making me think!
Brought to you by: Stan’s Plan for 2012 Read the New Testament in One Year
New Testament (260 chapters) + One Chapter a Day (260 days) = Take the weekend of from reading the New Testament and “Go to Church on Sunday”.
Thanks for your thoughts, Stan. A few of my own in response:
1. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but that doesn’t mean he’s the only one. The word used in John 10 for shepherd is the same word translated in Ephesians 4 as pastor. So we can be shepherds as well. (Of course, he is also the Lamb of God, so he is also a sheep.) Because the labels are more metaphorical, they are not mutually exclusive. (I’m not sure there was disagreement there, but I thought I would mention that for the sake of clarity.)
2. These look to me like examples of sheep seeking other sheep, as you put it: Matthew 9.27-31; Mark 1.40-45; Mark 5.1-20; Mark 7.31-37; Luke 5.12-16; Luke 8.26-39; John 4.39-42; John 9.25, 30-33). That last one is closest to the 1 Peter 3.15 verse you mentioned, since ‘answer’ = apology, the word for a legal defense. Not sure about the maturity you would have to attain before doing the tasking of seeking lost sheep, especially since the maturity Paul mentions in Ephesians 4 focuses on the body (i.e., the community) being mature. These newly found sheep seem pretty effective in seeking other sheep, opening up whole communities to the gospel.
3. I agree that some are equippers, but that many more should see themselves as included in the task of seeking lost sheep. So I was blurring the line. But when Jesus says, “Whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12.30 / Luke 11.23), I don’t think that only applies to people in vocational ministry.
4. Paul had to forsake assembling with the saints in Antioch in order that new Christian communities could be formed throughout the Gentile world. Maybe the task he engaged in isn’t so specialized that only a few professionals are meant to do it. But I certainly hope, and work hard every day to make sure that what we’re doing at Emmanuel encourages, equips, and refreshes God’s people. But you join me in that task as you lead the youth as well as your home group. So you’re a guy who encourages, equips, and refreshes others. You even came up with a Bible reading plan for our church! I guess what I’m saying is that I appreciate you, Pastor Stan!