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Laid on My Back

By Bill Elliff


      The freak accident that laid me on my back for several months caused me to stop long enough to hear God's voice.

      This question from the Great Shepherd came with gut wrenching force to my soul. A freak accident had laid me on my back for several months, causing me to stop long enough to hear God's voice. As I felt what others feel who face an unexpected calamity, I began to think of people in my church who had gone through a crisis during the past year. Had I really cared for them? Had I taken the time to understand their hurts, their fears, their needs? Had I done what was necessary to provide for them? Had I loved them as I was now wanting them to love me?

      When I visited my members in the hospital, was I motivated by genuine concern for their well-being, or was I simply performing my pastoral duties . . . wanting to make sure they knew I had been there? When someone died, did it touch me? When someone was faced with a sick child or with placing an aging parent in a nursing home, was I willing to expend the emotional energy to understand? When I heard of deep needs in the body and said "I'll be praying for you," did I mean it, and . . . was that enough?

      Was I a shepherd or merely a hireling? A hire-ling is one who is hired to do a task. He is in his position for the material reward, the personal gain. To a hireling, caring for sheep is just a job, not a passion. Hirelings are interested in only one thing: themselves!

      Such calloused care was evidenced in Jesus' day by the way a hireling responded when danger threatened the flock. He would simply run away. His own well-being and comfort were far more important to him than the good of those he was called to protect.

      One has to wonder if the average length of most pastors' tenure (less than 22 months nationwide) illustrates a widespread attitude among American pastors. When problems and conflicts arise, the leader's natural response is to withdraw emotionally or physically from the people. And sometimes, under the guise of "I sense God is telling me it's time to leave," he runs away. Somewhere along the way he has lost his love for the flock--the kind of love that makes him willing to "lay down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

      Pause and let God ask you the question that has been haunting me over the past year:

      "(Insert your name), do you really love My sheep?

      The Piranhas that Steal Our Passion

      Piranhas are small, but deadly fish. They tend to swarm on their prey, overpowering them before they have a chance to recover. Every pastor has his piranhas. They can nip at your heels or swarm your soul. The busy-ness of daily duties, the staff member who sabotages the work (or never works), the "we-never-did-it-that-way-before" crowd, the cutting statement after what you thought was a fairly good sermon, the dominant deacon, the plateaued or declining statistics--these can all weigh on a leader's spirit.

      Before you realize it, the passion you once had for people is gone. Love for others is replaced with a numb devotion to duty or, worse, a growing desire to please men. Zeal is replaced with routine, passion with passivity.

      Add to this the subtle sins that plague every leader's life and it is easy to see how the primary motivation to "fervently love one another from the heart" is depleted. Once this foundational motivation is gone, the flame of purposeful, powerful ministry flickers and dies.

      What is it that you have allowed to enter your heart and crowd out the love of God for His flock? Some reasons, I suppose, are more base than others, but the end result is the same: If you do not love your people, you will not care for them. And you will lose your ability to illustrate the love of the Great Shepherd, a love they desperately need to experience. You will be reduced to a hireling and will cease to be a true shepherd.

      Have you been hurt by church members and responded by emotionally pulling away from them and others? They have not responded to you, so (the emotional reasoning goes) why should you care for them?

      Have you become trapped in a "growth for growth's sake" mentality that has caused you to lose sight of people and their needs? Have you become more concerned about whether the numbers are up than about whether lives are eternally changed?

      Have you become so enmeshed in administrative tasks that people have taken a backseat? When was the last time you personally led someone to Christ? Counseled a hurting couple to wholeness? Discipled a new convert? Wrestled in prayer for someone's destiny?

      Has the routine work of the pastorate become nothing more than duty? Do you dread hospital visitation? When people call, do you hope it will be "quick" and something that will somehow benefit you?

      Have you allowed little sins to go unchecked so that subtle hypocrisy has crept into your life? Do you love some people publicly, but downgrade them privately? Are you secretly pleased when others fail? Do you preach love on Sunday, but practice gossip or criticism on Monday?

      Have you lost your intimacy with the Lord of love, the One who alone can provide the power to love the flock for "love is from God" (I John 4:7,8)?

      When confrontation is needed, do you love your people enough to speak the truth, or do you run . . . like a hireling?

      Is there any church member you have not forgiven, any offense that you are holding in your heart against another? As "far as it lies within you," are you "at peace with all men" (Rom.12:18)?

      The Marks of the Great Shepherd

      During my recent time of self-evaluation, God led me to study the marks of a true shepherd. There is no purer model than the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ. In every way that Christ shepherds us, we, as leaders, are to shepherd others. David's explanation of the Shepherd's care for him in the beloved twenty-third Psalm gives us one of the most detailed illustrations of this model for leadership. Although we will never attain the perfection with which He fulfills His task, it is our calling and our standard.

      Take the next few minutes to evaluate yourself as a true shepherd. Prayerfully and practically detail fresh ways that you can become the kind of shepherd/leader God desires.

      "The Lord is MY Shepherd, I shall not want."

      Explanation: A good shepherd knows his sheep by name and they know him. Have you taken steps to be genuinely involved in your people's lives? Would they say, "He is my pastor!" or would they have to look back in the past for someone who demonstrates real care for them? What have you done to aggressively seek to become a shepherd to those under your care?

      Examination: How am I doing? (circle one)

      Hireling - Somewhat Faithful - Often Faithful - Loving Shepherd

      Application: What specific steps could I take to become a better shepherd in this area?

      "He leadeth me beside still waters."

      Explanation: Sheep will not drink from moving water. A good shepherd finds still waters, or dams a stream to create such tranquility. Do you work aggressively to help your people overcome fear? Do you "meet them where they are" in their attitudes with a loving desire to help lead them to where they should be? In decision making, do you run over your people or lead them with gentleness?

      Examination: How am I doing? (circle one)

      Hireling - Somewhat Faithful - Often Faithful - Loving Shepherd

      Application: What specific steps could I take to become a better shepherd in this area?

      "He makes me to lie down in green pastures."

      Explanation: A good shepherd makes sure there is plenty of food for his sheep. He does whatever is necessary to feed them. Do you feed your people? Are you taking the necessary time to study and hear from God so that what you give to them is fresh and life-giving? Do you love them enough to prepare God-initiated messages that will renew their minds and change their lives?

      Examination: How am I doing? (circle one)

      Hireling - Somewhat Faithful - Often Faithful - Loving Shepherd

      Application: What specific steps could I take to become a better shepherd in this area?

      "He restores my soul."

      Explanation: A good shepherd speaks to his sheep daily, calling them by name. Do you encourage your people? Are you long on reproof, but short on encouragement? Are you using the Word of God to restore the mind, emotions, and will of your people?

      Examination: How am I doing? (circle one)

      Hireling - Somewhat Faithful - Often Faithful - Loving Shepherd

      Application: What specific steps could I take to become a better shepherd in this area?

      "He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name sake."

      Explanation: A good shepherd does not drive the sheep, he goes before them and leads them. And he leads them into the right, the good, the best paths. Do you love your people so much that you are walking in the paths of righteousness so others will follow? Do you see the vital connection between your walk and theirs? Are you willingly paying the price of holy living so that you can lead others there also?

      Examination: How am I doing? (circle one)

      Hireling - Somewhat Faithful - Often Faithful - Loving Shepherd

      Application: What specific steps could I take to become a better shepherd in this area?

      "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me."

      Explanation: Are you with your people in moments of crisis? Are you quick to respond when there is a difficulty? Do they know you will be there if possible? Have you equipped yourself with God's Word to know how to minister to them at such times? Do you go after them when they fall, or let them stray away without lifting a hand?

      Examination: How am I doing? (circle one)

      Hireling - Somewhat Faithful - Often Faithful - Loving Shepherd

      Application: What specific steps could I take to become a better shepherd in this area?

      "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies."

      Explanation: A hireling runs when the enemy approaches; a shepherd stays. Not only does he protect the sheep, but he continues to provide for the sheep in the enemies' presence. How do you respond when conflict surfaces in the church? Do you protect your sheep from the influences of the world, flesh, and devil that would seek to destroy them? Do you provide the kind of spiritual food that will strengthen them to stand against these enemies? Are you preparing them to face the world?

      Examination: How am I doing? (circle one)

      Hireling - Somewhat Faithful - Often Faithful - Loving Shepherd

      Application: What specific steps could I take to become a better shepherd in this area?

      "Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over."

      Explanation: A good shepherd takes healing oil and anoints the cuts and bruises of his sheep. He often takes his own cup and gives the sheep a drink. Are you working to bring healing to the hearts, lives, and relationships of your people? Are you anointing them with the healing balm of Christ that will soothe their hurts? Are you quenching their thirst with the living waters of Christ flowing out of your innermost being?

      Examination: How am I doing? (circle one)

      Hireling - Somewhat Faithful - Often Faithful - Loving Shepherd

      Application: What specific steps could I take to become a better shepherd in this area?

      The Prayer That Changes Our Hearts

      I had the wonderful privilege of spending a week with Vernon Higham, the pastor of the largest evangelical church in Wales. Nearing 70 now, he was born in the wake of the Welsh Revival. For over 35 years he has lovingly pastored the Heath Evangelical Church in Cardiff, Wales. I asked how he kept up with his people. He replied, "I know when they are not there on a Sunday."

      "How do you know?" I asked. "What kind of record system do you have?"

      To which he replied, "We don't have a system. They are my sheep. I just know."

      I've been praying a simple prayer in recent days. I believe it is a prayer that honors God, for it is in His heart for this to happen. Perhaps you would like to join me in this prayer.

      "Lord, fill my heart with love for Your flock!"

      I am praying that God will make me a leader who is more than a hireling or a corporate CEO, but a shepherd who "knows well the condition of his flocks and pays attention to his herds" (Prov. 27:23). I'm asking God to fill my heart with a new love for His people--to teach me afresh to "weep when they weep, and rejoice when they rejoice." I'm asking the Great Shepherd to make me a good shepherd . . . a shepherd who loves His sheep!

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