These are difficult days to be a pastor. As you know, pastoring is likened to shepherding in the Bible. I have a parishioner who sees me and says, “Hey, Shepherd.” I like that. But it’s tough to be a shepherd when one’s flock is locked in their homes or nursing facilities or hospitals. It’s tough to shepherd when the sheep are dying and you can’t be there. It’s hard to be a shepherd when so many of us are shaken by the needless death of George Floyd and the unrest in our country. It’s tough to be a shepherd in a valley full of wolves.
Shepherds are to be with his/her flock in dangerous territory, not absent for three months. My people haven’t seen me, but this is no sabbatical. Along with the rest of our pastors, I’ve tried to contact and connect as much as I can with as many of our people as possible. I’m still preparing and preaching sermons from an empty sanctuary (nearly empty—the tech guys are there). No question that I am working more now than I was before the pandemic. Then, of course, there is this horrific pandemic and all of the baggage associated with it: a mind-numbing-number of deaths, sickness, unemployment, mental health issues, fear, worry, loneliness, etc. The cherries on the top of this never-before-dealt-with-pressure-cooker environment is our nation reeks with racial unrest, injustice that has existed far too long and it’s an election year (never fun even in good years). If this isn’t a “valley of the shadow of death,” I don’t know what is.
I’m a pastor/shepherd with limited access to his people/flock; working more but with less feedback; anticipating more friction when we do gather again (see above statement on mental health or lack thereof in the body and the divisive times in which we live); and experiencing a not-so-healthy dose of some Monday-morning blues following yesterday’s less-than-spectacular sermon. I am left in a mixture of lament, angst and frustration. Is this the he “wall” that others ministers have reported hitting. I don’t think it is. I think it is irritation of our dire situation, knowing our people need spiritual guidance like never before and yet feeling like my hands are tied behind my back. I see the wolves; know their viciousness but this shepherd needs help.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. I know this. There are plenty of stories of God’s faithfulness through these strange and curious times. I know this too. But can I admit that these times are bigger than what this shepherd can accomplish with my measly rod and staff (not my pastoral staff… they are awesome)? We need a mighty movement of the Good Shepherd in this valley with us.
In my upcoming Sunday’s sermon (I’m preaching through Mark this summer), Jesus states that “the day will come when his followers will fast” (Mark 2:20). If these never-before-in-our-lifetime events don’t call us to fast, what will? If we can’t fast now, when will we? We are in the valley of wolves. They are attacking. Our sheep need us. Our churches, our cities, our country, our world needs Jesus. Our best weapon is prayer.
So in an effort to practice what I am about to preach, I’ve committed to doing what Jesus said we should do when he’s not around– Fast. Just a few meals maybe more. Can I encourage you to do the same? Let’s get very serious and desperate and faithful and cry out to God in our valley of wolves. If not now, when?