Some five years ago, when we had finished our building addition, I knew our church needed a new challenge—a new focus for our prayer and energy. I remember well one particular morning as I prayed and studied my Bible in a quiet library. I read shepherd passages in Scripture, and was especially arrested by Matthew 9:35-37: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every dis-ease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep with-out a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, there-fore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” Jesus was thinking about the lost sheep of Israel, and then beyond them to the Gentiles.
I felt that was God’s Word for our church, for the harassed and helpless within our congregation and those beyond. Of the many different images and emphases the Bible gives the church for ministry, this shepherd imagery seemed to be where Christ wanted us to especially focus. Since then, our ministries of compassionate outreach have grown into the lifestyle of our church. Even within our church life, the sense of being a shepherding church seems a part of our spiritual DNA.
In February, as our elders met to talk about the direction of our church in the months ahead, this emphasis on being the church of the Good Shepherd became clear to us again. As we talked about the growth of VCL over the last year we asked ourselves and the Lord how we should sort through the decisions that have to be made. We concluded:
- We are a church that seems to shepherd one another. There is a pervasive sense in our fellowship of people caring, guarding, and feeding one another. This extends, of course, to our children and youth.
- As pastor here for over 14 years, I am usually seen as a shepherd and bring this tone to the church. The church inevitably takes on some of this style of the pastor, and is at the heart of our Growth Groups and Care Ministry.
- Our ministries of compassion are growing, including work with Love INC (furniture delivery), PADS (sandwiches for the homeless), various aspects of caring for the elderly in area nursing homes, and missions emphases like the Elikya Project. Now we are beginning to explore how we can help stop human trafficking.
- We have a strong sense of our responsibility to shepherd the students whom God has brought to us. As we so often say, we want to leave our fingerprints on them as we send them out to other ministries beyond our church. We are positioned to give scores of students a picture of “the church of the Good Shepherd.”
- The elders felt that my personal ministry of shepherding will likely be extended beyond our own congregation with the May 1 publication of my book, Pastoral Graces, and with my ongoing ministry among pastoral students. Rather than seeing this as something I do on the side, they encouraged me to see these things as an essential part of the overall ministry of VCL. (For that I am very grateful!)
As we met, the elders recommitted them-selves and our church to this shepherding work and to use that as the basis for the strategic decisions we are making about our future. We want to do all we can to lead, feed, and guard the VCL flock and as a congregation, to be the workers sent out to those harassed and helpless people around us who are like sheep without a shepherd.
By: Lee Eclov