During one church service not long ago, I had the pleasure of seeing my pastor being officially ordained into the ministry. He is officially, a “Reverend” now. During the ceremony, one of the charges given to him that came from scripture was John 21:15-17:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
“Feed my sheep..” There it is.. Jesus in this passage is telling Peter, this repeat offender of weak, sinking, and at one point denying faith, to feed his sheep. He is telling this sometimes rash and impulsive follower of his to care for his followers. And that he does. He goes about the business of taking care of these people who now follow Christ. As I stated above, this was the charge made to my pastor at his ordination, to which he responded, “by God’s grace, I will.”
As much as I know Christians should be like the Bereans, studying the Word to show themselves approved, we have moments of struggle and difficulty. Please, restrain yourself from mentally telling me as you read this, “THAT’S when you have to press in and go deeper.” I agree. You’re right. But unless you always do that and it works out perfectly when you do, EVERY TIME, then the answer is nice but not completely truthful.
We all have wilderness moments. We have those times when God feels far away (though he’s not). In those times, opening up the Word is a chore that we might not do even if we got paid for it. Prayer? I mean really? In that time, and on those days, we are caught up in nothing but a flood of tears, regrets, condemnation and shame. In those moments, when we are frozen in our tracks by whatever life is throwing at us. The best we can do is listen. Whether by dragging ourselves into the very last pew of our church, or nowadays even by clicking on some podcast.
When we do either of those things, we find food. We find nourishment for our soul. We are being given the Word of God. For some, who have been so burnt by a legalistic church background that it’s hard to settle into a new place, they have the gift that God provides by the hearing of the Word preached throughout the Internet. They are being fed the same way a local church congregation is feed as they sit in the pews each Sunday and hear the Word properly preached with the emphasis placed fully on Christ and his work on our behalf. Yes, people are getting feed. There are many pastors across the Internet who have no idea how many sheep they are actually sustaining with the word of God. My own pastor discovered a congregation of people in the Caribbean who had no pastor, but used his weekly sermons and even the church’s order of service as way to minister to their need for God. Simply amazing…
Some of us are fortunate enough to have a pastor in our lives that knows the importance of feeding his sheep. We are getting sermons that feed us, but not just. If we are fortunate to be in a good congregation with a pastor who takes the job of feeding his sheep seriously, then we are also getting a grand meal. A real meal, at a table, where you can look across to him and be honest with your life and you can and will know that he honestly cares. I know this can sometimes seem hard to come by, but if you can find a place like that, I think you may have found the closest actual example of Jesus telling Peter to care for his flock. As much as I enjoy sermons by podcasts, this is best reason to eventually find a good church body with a pastor who understands not just the importance of the great commission, but is also there to care for the well-being of the people already in his congregation.
It’s funny that so much emphasis in most churches nowadays is put on making the sheep self-sufficient. “You should be learning to study and understand on your own.” There is a tendency to focus on duplication in discipleship. But then, there are always people like me. Probably more than most care to admit because we hide all our worries and doubt away behind how important reproducing ourselves is.
Those people broken by sin who struggle at times?
Those people still need to be feed.
Those people who simply don’t grasp things and need help understanding?
Those people still need to be feed.
Those people who think they’ve got it all together?
Those people still need to be feed.
I’m not talking about a Sunday, “rah! rah! Get out there and win one for Jesus!”, kind of meal. But the same meal we are told to go out into the world with. The Gospel. That same message which saves, is also that message that sustains. It is a message fed to you by both sermon, and by sacrament. It is feed to you in a congregation of 100 and sitting across a breakfast table. Sometimes, the one personally conveyed across a table is the one that sticks the best.
I don’t hide how difficult I can be sometimes. But a couple of years ago, I was in a pretty low time in my life. This was probably the closest description of me when it came to getting feed anything of God. “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish and will not even bring it back to his mouth.”(Proverbs 19:24.) It was in the midst of this dark time that I met a pastor who raised his hands up to feed me while I walked about weak from being malnourished. He fed me food filled with vitamins and nutrients. It was a virtual “superfood” after years of ingesting delicious, but empty calories, followed immediately by a rigorous exercise of works. I had no spiritual energy left for the job. I ran out of steam quickly and the red bull I was given to keep me on my feet only lasted for half as long as it should have and it made me cranky as hell. There are days that I feel like I’m still re-learning things. Still trying to find the most nutritious way to eat. This young under shepherd and not yet “Reverend” was constantly feeding me from the pulpit, and as I begin to understand it more, from the body and blood. He never took for granted an opportunity to sit and talk to me and share a meal. Again, I was being fed. These are the things that built me up again and helped me walk once more in the faith given me. Even in my struggles now, I find more strength than I had prior to trust Christ through them.
I say all this not to gush on my pastor. (Well, maybe a bit.) What I want to say is thank you. Thank you to him and ALL the pastors out there who don’t resort solely on the RPM method of Christian counseling (Are you Reading, Praying, Meditating enough?) Thank you to the pastors who don’t just exhort us to “get busy” working for the Lord. Thank you to the pastors who feed us from the pulpit and who take the time to meet with us in our desperate times and even the not so desperate times in our lives. Thank you for always raising a hand to feed us the Truth of God that give us the hope of Christ through ALL seasons in our lives. I know that when someone is nearing death, sometimes the best a pastor might do for that person on their deathbed is to feed them the actual body and blood. Pastors, please know when you meet those of us going through a difficult time, to share a meal and share God’s truth, you are feeding us at our own type of deathbed experience. In those times, when we feel like we have nothing else, you are strengthening us and encouraging us in our faith.
People. If you are not in a church, it doesn’t mean you’re not a Christian, but please be encouraged to find a place and a pastor that will feed you, encourage you and love you when you have nothing left. They are out there.