This fall, our church is learning together about the different ways that God has made all us and the important role each of us play in the world. We are using teaching from a part of the Bible called the book of Ephesians as we talk about this. It reads: “It was (Jesus) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers…”
People are different. They are wired differently. They think differently. They see the world differently. I love that this is exactly how God designed things – God made each of us in different ways, and created a world that works best when we all use our diverse gifts.
Each week at our church for the next few weeks I am preaching on each of these five unique ways that God has made us, and I will blog about each one. This week, we are talking about pastors.
This is where things can get a little confusing….when we think of the word pastor, most of us think of people who work as ministers in a church. That is one way we use the word. But the way the word is used here in Ephesians is broader than that. It can also be translated shepherds, and it refers to anyone who has been equipped in a God-given way to care for the souls, bodies, and hearts of others.
A lot of you reading this are shepherds. You are people who feel a definite tug to care for the needs of others. You may have found that this special way you’ve been designed by God has led you to work as a nurse, or a social worker, or a counsellor. In a church, you may be the person who organizes a meal train when someone has a surgery. You may be the one that people always seem to want to talk to you when they are going through a hard time – and you like it when they do. You notice when people are sad and you reach out to them. You care – deeply.
Your gift and calling is so important. You, my shepherds, are the hearts of our body who love us well. You are the shoulders we cry on when we are hurting. You are the hands that feed us and care for us. You matter so much.
But being a shepherd can also be hard. If you have the gift of shepherding, there are challenges and frustrations that you may have. Today, I Invite you to consider those frustrations and how you can care for yourself as you care for others.
Being Taken Advantage Of
Our shepherds sometimes get taken for granted. Your kind heart means you will care for people again and again, sometimes to the point of being manipulated. When you feel burned, your soft heart can start to grow hard.
What can you do when this happens?
One important reminder for our shepherds is that you are allowed to set limits. You carry a special burden to care for others, but God has not asked you to call for all the people, all the time, in all the ways. You can ask someone to call you back later when you need a break. You can say “no” when someone is asking too much.You can admit when you are exhausted.
In my experience, our shepherds can feel a lot of guilt, a lot of the time. Instead of seeing all the things they ARE doing, they can see only the things they are not. They feel bad for not visiting every person, not making more meals, not sending more cards or messages. I get it. This is where I remind our shepherds to remember: Guilt is NOT from God. God may lay people on your heart, but feeling shame or failure for not doing enough is not God’s voice. When the guilt comes, pause and talk to Jesus. Let God remind you that you are loved, simply because you are you.
Shepherds can often experience burn out. Many shepherds serve in emotionally exhausting fields. Some of them spend all day doing child protection for our most vulnerable. Some of them spend their days counselling people and absorbing THEIR needs. Beyond their work, shepherds then often have friends and family who need them too.
If you are a burnt out shepherd, one invitation is to observe rhythms of life. Take a day off a week, and let it be a true day off. Intentionally set time aside that you do not answer a phone or care for others. Take your vacations.
Frustration with Bureaucracy
Shepherds can find systems, procedures and policies really frustrating. “Why can’t we just give extra food to that family at the food bank? So what if they’ve already been this month!” “Why do we have to make things so complicated – let’s just HELP people!” “Why do we have to follow Plan to Protect – I just want to help children!”
These are valid frustrations. For a shepherd, the person comes first. This sometimes means that rules and systems feel like they are in the way. But as shepherds, we must remember this is not always the case. Sometimes our desire to thwart the system for one ends up causing bigger harm to others.
Let’s use the food bank example. Let’s say the loving shepherd gives in and gives that one family an extra box of food, even though they were only supposed to get one a month.The next day, 30 families show up asking for their box of food, having heard from others that exceptions can be made. We can go down a ton of rabbit trails of where this can lead, but sometimes as shepherds we need to make peace with the structures put in place. What can help is to stop and consider how the big picture HELPS people instead of focusing on how it doesn’t.
How Can we Love Our Shepherds?
Perhaps you are realizing that you are not a shepherd, but you can quickly see people in your life who are. You have a role here as well, to consider how you can support and value the shepherds around you.
Let those who care for you know you are grateful for them. Say “thank you.”
Let Them Off the Hook
It’s easy to keep going back to our shepherds again and again when we need them. Sometimes they need us to let them off the hook, and say “You don’t have to help me right now.”
Learn From Them
We need the voice of shepherds. We need shepherds helping us remember people and their needs. It can be easy for some of us to simply say “This is how it has to be!” Shepherds will remind us – people need to be loved. We need them to remind us of the one child who is hurting, the person who may be impacted by a new system, the ways that people can get overlooked.
Let me end by saying to our shepherds: Thank you! You are important to us, and we love you. Thank you for looking after us, looking out for us, and loving us. We hope you will also look after you!
Next week we will talk about those who are equipped to be TEACHERS. You can get updates on new posts by clicking “follow” here.