Long before I was called to be a Pastor I can remember someone saying to me that being a Pastor would be the best job in the world but for one thing, people. I suppose then that being a shepherd would be a great job also if there were no sheep to care for. There would be no lost and wandering sheep track down and return safely to the sheep fold. There would be no trekking through wind, rain and snow to rescue the lost and bewildered sheep from danger and death. There would be no sheep or little lambs to untangle from barbed wire and fences. In other words it would perhaps be seen as a cushy little number but it would be totally pointless and meaningless to be a shepherd.
Pastors need people and people need Pastors. Shepherds need sheep and sheep need shepherds. I know that sounds obvious but there are times when perhaps the Pastor and the shepherd who have been under constant pressure wished the people and the sheep would go away and leave them alone for a time of rest. Jesus described himself as the good shepherd. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:14-15)
I have just finished writing an article for our church bulletin and I am looking at some be’s in the bible, not the honey bees. The scripture that I was looking at was in Joshua ch1. Moses the servant of the Lord was dead and The Lord was preparing Joshua to take his place. Joshua if you like had been Moses right hand man, he had served him faithfully when others doubted and rebelled against him. It was Joshua and Caleb who were the only two spies among the twelve who were sent by Moses to spy out the Promised Land before them who brought back a good and positive report.
There is no doubt that Moses did not have an easy task leading the children of Israel towards the Promised Land. Time and time again the people rebelled against both him and God, they mumbled, grumbled and complained continually. At one point they even wanted to stone him and return to Egypt where they had been so cruelly treated and abused as slaves. They were quick to forget the miracles that the Lord had performed to rescue them and protect them from their enemies; they were thankless, ungrateful, uncaring and opposed Moses leadership and the Lord’s commands with blatant disregard.
These were the people that Joshua was now going to lead and shepherd into the Promised Land. I don’t know exactly what was going through Joshua’s mind at the prospect of leading these people but I can imagine how I might have felt. Since coming into the ministry full time I have had many opportunities to meet with colleagues from within my own denomination but also from others outside. I have listened to my colleagues who have been in full time ministry much longer than I have and have sought to learn from their experiences and Godly advice.
One of the things that has shocked me and saddened me the most is the number of leaders who have suffered either partial or complete burn out or emotional breakdowns during their ministry. I truly admire those Christian leaders who are brave and honest enough to share their stories of heartache, disappointment, discouragement, disillusionment, doubt and sometimes distress. Having experienced both sides of the pulpit I now have a clearer but certainly not complete understanding of the dynamics of both positions. Having been a lay person for thirty five years and a Pastor for almost four most of my church experience is from outside the pulpit.
When I was being Interviewed by the Board of Ministry before taking up the position as Pastor of the Lurgan church I suddenly realized that two of the men on the panel were previous Pastors of mine in the Lurgan church. I could have felt very awkward and perhaps worried if I had recalled anything that I had done to make the lives of these two servants of God difficult during their time at Lurgan but the reality was that I did not feel awkward or worried one little bit. I have always respected and tried to work with and assist wherever I could the Pastors whose ministry I sat under. That does not mean to say that there were never any differences of opinion between some of us but to the best of my knowledge I never intentionally made life difficult for any of my previous Pastors.
In fact at the end of my first interview with the board of ministry I was asked if I would like to ask any questions. I asked only one question, I had not prepared any questions and on reflection the question that I asked could have left me feeling not too good if my memory had let me down and I was mistaken concerning how I had treated these two previous Pastors of mine. The question I asked was addressed to my former Pastors, I asked them if during their time at Lurgan I had ever made life difficult for them or treated the wrongly. At that time I did not know why I had asked that specific question but later on I think I figured it out. To my delight and relief they both affirmed that they could not remember me saying or doing anything that might have hindered their ministry at Lurgan.
When I later reflected on the question that I had asked and why had I asked it my heart and mind were at ease because it would have truly troubled me had their answer been different and I had somehow hindered their ministry or made life difficult for them. There are various accounts of times when Moses faced unwarranted criticism and opposition from people and there are still many Christian leaders today who face opposition and criticism that is not warranted. Throughout the book of Exodus we read different accounts of the times when the Israelites would not listen to Moses and the messages that he was relaying to them from God. Moses is not with us today but God still uses his servants to relay his messages through his word to people and many people will still not listen. There are those who hear God’s message but choose not to heed it.
We all have breaking points and Moses the servant of God was no different. We read that the Israelite community were once again mumbling and grumbling and opposing both Moses and his brother Aaron because they were running out of water. Moses had reached that place where Christian leaders try hard not to go, breaking point. The Lord told Moses to speak to the rock and water would be poured out but Moses had reached that point where he could take no more of the people’s criticism, opposition and constant rebellion and instead of speaking to the rock he strikes it twice with his staff. The water gushed out but Moses was not granted permission to lead the people into the Promised Land because of his action. (Numbers ch 20)
With all of this back ground knowledge of the people is it any wonder that the Lord wanted to give the new leader of the people encouragement, instructions and promises to help him through what would lie ahead. See how many be’s you can find in these verses that the Lord gave to Joshua. Perhaps they are for you as well.
1 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2“Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Great Sea on the west. 5 No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
6 “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”