I have completed my March Madness bracket in preparation for the most glorious two-and-a-half weeks in sports. I’ve got NC State upsetting Baylor in the second round and Penn State doing the same thing to A&M. I’ve got Texas losing to Houston in the Midwest Regional Final and TCU going all the way to the West Regional Final and losing to UConn. I’m picking Arizona and Duke to join Houston and UConn in the Final Four with Cougar High beating Zona for the championship. Those are my picks. And I am less confident in them as I have ever been.
As we prepare to select additional shepherds at our church at GCR, let’s discuss some of our expectations as church members. Deep inside our bones, all of us are free-enterprise, open-market, individualistic consumers. All of us drink deeply from the wells of retail and marketing. The customer is always right. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back. 30 days free trial. Sometimes, if we’re not careful, we sell Christianity or the Church by trying to make it low cost and high value. We have to continuously guard against those cultural tendencies.
We can also treat our elders as if they are “goods and services” we’re owed as faithful church members.
I do believe our shepherds should be a front line support for our families and our marriages. They should be present during times of illness and death. I think all that is in the job description. But is that the ultimate end of eldering? Is the goal for a shepherd to provide encouragement and comfort to the members? When the elders get to heaven, will Jesus’ first question be, “Did you provide enough emotional support for my sheep?” I think that question will be on his list, but I don’t think it’ll be in the top ten.
If we’re not careful, the care and support of an elder could become another of the consumer goods to which church members feel entitled. We might read our elders through consumer eyes. And consumers either get what they want or they go shopping elsewhere.
Shepherding is not a free counseling service that provides comfort in the hospitals and prayers at the funerals. Shepherding is a mentoring program designed to call every member of the church into Christ-like living. Elders are to teach and model and lead others toward more selfless service, submission, sacrifice, and, yes, even suffering. And that’s a lot harder than just being a comfort during times of trial.
Sometimes we get the idea that the church owes me counseling and comforting and the top guys showing up to anoint me with oil and pray with my family whenever I call. Or my friend’s family. Or the funeral of somebody who sat on the west side. Sometimes it’s not the natural result of loving relationships and community in Christ, it’s an entitlement, something bought and demanded. So, the elders, instead of being viewed as our spiritual leaders who call us and lead us to faithful service, are seen as our servants to sacrifice and serve for us so we don’t have to.
When a visit or a prayer by an elder becomes something that’s demanded by people who wouldn’t go to the funeral of that elder’s mother, we’ve turned Christianity into a commodity instead of a community. We’ve completely forgotten we are members of this faith community to learn to become like Christ, not to have our egos stroked or our consumer demands met.
So, yes, it is right and necessary that our shepherds visit the hospitals and attend the funerals. But only if the members see that as an example to be followed, not as a service to be expected or demanded.
True shepherding is leading God’s people to do what the elders do. To be visited and served by church members trained by their elders to visit and serve on their own would be the sign of a deeply healthy congregation – a richly blessed body shaped in the image of our Lord.