“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them… I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered… I will bring them into their own land, I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel… I will tend them in a good pasture… I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down,’ declares the Sovereign Lord. ‘I will search for the lost and bring back the strays, I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.'” ~Ezekiel 34:11-16
God speaks through his prophet in Ezekiel 34 about lousy leaders. God points out the kings and elders, prophets and priests — shepherds — the leaders of God’s people who only cared about themselves. The leaders were fat and full and happy. But the people were neglected and forgotten. The shepherds ruled harshly and tough. They didn’t pay attention to the weak. They didn’t minister to the sick. They didn’t care for the injured. They only thought about themselves. Their first priority was to maintain their control. Their main goal was to hang onto their position. They enjoyed the power. They relished the status. And God’s people suffered. They were scattered. They didn’t have any guidance or support, so they looked to the idols in the high places. They made deals with the world and the world ate them alive. And nobody cared.
And God says that’s not going to happen anymore! “I myself will be their shepherd! I’m going to fix this. I’m going to restore everything. I’m going to make everything right. I myself will be their shepherd!”
Ezekiel 34 is also about sorry sheep: older women who think they run everything, younger men who think they know everything, rich people who think they own everything. And they only care about getting their way. They use their experience and knowledge and education and wealth to get it. They don’t just want the blessings of God, they want the blessings you’re getting, too. It’s not enough to have a lot, they want more. And if they need to take it from others, they will. They assert their opinions about everything. They ignore or completely discount the opinions and feelings of others. These sorry sheep push and shove and they leave a trail of devastated people behind them. Hurt feelings and broken relationships. And it’s driving the sheep away.
And God says that’s not going to happen anymore. “I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep! I will save my flock. I’m going to fix this problem. I’m going to make this right. I myself will be their shepherd!”
I read Ezekiel 34 and sometimes it makes me sick.
Because sometimes we can be really lousy leaders. God rips into the bad shepherds because they’re ignoring the fat sheep who are running over the other sheep. Sometimes church leaders don’t want to challenge church bullies because they don’t want the conflict. Sometimes the fat sheep are the big givers. Sometimes preachers just preach safe messages — they don’t confront the pushing and shoving — because they don’t want anybody to leave. Elders and ministers don’t always take care of the weak sheep like we’re supposed to. Taking care of wounded sheep is hard and painful and time-consuming. It’s work. Sometimes we pay more attention to and rule in favor of the fat sheep who can yell down or outspend the broken sheep. Sometimes church leaders crave the attention themselves. Some of us are tempted by the spotlight. And sometimes we do want our own way. Sometimes we’ll do something or say something only to save our own necks. And our selfishness and inconsistencies can sometimes drive people away. God help us.
If you have ever felt run over by anybody in church, I’m sorry. If you have ever felt like your feelings have been dismissed or your opinions have been discounted by any church leaders, I’m sorry. If I have ever used my position as the preacher to shove you or run over you, please forgive me. I’m sorry. I’m know I’m capable of those things. God, help me.
We can also — all of us — be sorry sheep. We can be territorial about our ministries or our preferred practices or our pews. We can not let anybody in. We can shove our brothers and sisters out the door by being dogmatic and unyielding about our own personal beliefs. We can push people to the curb by insisting they believe and think and worship and parent and dress and pray just like me. We’re so good at it, sometimes we’re oblivious to it. We can actually use a weak sheep position as an 18-pound sledgehammer to bully and head butt and ram other sheep into my comfort zone and inside my lines and behind my boundaries. There are sheep in your flock who’ve been in your flock for years and don’t have any friends. That’s the truth. There are sheep in your church who don’t feel like they matter because we’ve run over them on the way to our next committee meeting or service project. There are people in your congregation who sit by themselves every single Sunday. In your building. God, help us.
If you are a broken sheep, if you’re wounded and weak, if you’re tired, if you feel neglected or ignored or flat-out pushed aside by the people or the programs or the culture of your church, please forgive us. I’m so sorry. I know we’re capable of those things. God, help us.