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Where Have All the Shepherds Gone?

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Pay attention to the estranged, the sick, the stumbling, and the wayward sheep of your flock.

It is no secret that there is a disturbing trend of people withdrawing from CRC churches to attend other denominations. What might account for their exodus?

Some time ago, our denomination’s hierarchy shifted the church’s emphasis to “reaching the lost for Christ.”

As this new line of thinking took hold, the task of ordained ministers was gradually redefined. Ministers were no longer required to preach twice a Sunday. Nor were they expected to be personally involved in the shepherding care of the congregation’s members. In many cases, the responsibility for pastoral care for church members was shifted to small groups or care teams; pastors themselves were expected to adopt the primary role of evangelists instead of shepherds.

Some pastors stuck to the old ways, while others adapted readily to their new role.

But I wonder just what happened to the pastoral “soul care” task of these ordained shepherds. Many faithful church members are hurting because of a lack of genuine shepherding. Among their stories is that of a woman who was critically ill but who never heard from her pastor—not even a phone call—although he was well aware of her situation.

Or the couple who were dealing with a serious problem. The wife received one visit from her pastor. Six months later, when asked if he had been in contact with either the husband or the wife, the pastor explained that he had seen the woman twice: once for a home visit and the other time when he accidentally ran into her at a wedding.

This kind of “pastoral care” suggests at least one reason why so many are leaving the church in search of comfort and courage elsewhere. Just what is happening to Jesus’ command, “Feed my sheep”?

Here is a humble plea to all Christian Reformed shepherds of the flock. Pay attention to the estranged, the sick, the stumbling, and the wayward sheep of your flock. Shepherds who preach the Word faithfully, serve the sacraments, and diligently care for their sheep create vibrant and thriving church communities.

Pastors would be wise to accept a few pointers from Martin Bucer (1491-1551), who worked alongside Martin Luther. According to Bucer, the shepherd’s task is to lead to Christ those who are estranged from him; to restrain those fallen away through the affairs of the flesh; to restrain and reform those grievously fallen in sin; to reestablish ties to those who have become feeble in Christian living; and to protect the faithful from falling away.

It is through God’s Word and the sacraments administered by ordained pastors that Christ personally leads and feeds his sheep in today’s complex society.

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