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Do You Love Me? Feed my Sheep.

January 14, 2015

I was reading my morning devotional a couple of days ago, as I normally do, but was oddly struck by the content. Our Lead Minister had just given a message on John 21. This is the passage where Jesus comes and restores Simon Peter after he denied Christ three times ahead of the crucifixion. Jesus had predicted that Peter would do so, and Peter rejected Jesus’ words out of hand. He basically said, “There’s no way I’m going to deny you, Jesus! I’m too strong to do that!”

And yet, just as Jesus had predicted, Peter vehemently denied Christ. The lowly crow of a rooster in the dark marked His words as true to Peter, and he realized what he had done.

Like so many of us, Peter was zealous for Jesus when it was easy, but folded under the pressure of persecution for what he believed in. Pastors are not immune to this issue either. Many of us go into ministry with zeal in our hearts, only to be crushed by the weight of church politics, spread wide by lay leaders who want a piece of us for their projects, and stabbed by those we hold close when we don’t see eye to eye. The zeal fades, fear sets in, self-preservation takes over, and ministry comes to a screeching halt. There’s no rooster to crow, but the cry of a battle weary pastor and his family certainly fill the role.

While the Bible does not specifically tell us how Peter felt in the aftermath, it does tell us what he did. Rather than continuing on as a disciple, he went back to the family business. He returned to fishing for fish instead of fishing for men. I’m sure he still had a love in his heart for Christ, but the grind had gotten to him. He believed, but his abject failure crushed his desire to continue the work. Breaking his back on the fishing grounds was preferable to being broken into submission to what Christ had called him to do.

Pastors, I know there are days when this is where I live. I’ve come up short, and have been called on the carpet for it by leadership/team members/fellow pastors/congregation members/etc… Sometimes it has been warranted, sometimes it hasn’t, and sometimes I’m just not sure what’s going on. I also know I am not alone in this feeling.

In his book, “Why Pastors Quit”, Bo Lane shares some glaring statistics.

Most pastors are overworked.

90% of pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week and 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job.

And 70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.

Most pastors feel unprepared.

90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands and 90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.

Many pastors struggle with depression and discouragement.

70% of pastors constantly fight depression and 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

Wait, this is huge. Let’s pause here for a moment.

This means that half of the 1,700 or so pastors who leave the ministry each month have no other way of making a living. Their education and experience is wrapped up solely in the work of the ministry.

So, not only do pastors struggle with their choice to leave ministry, they have to worry about how they are going to feed their families.

Speaking of families, most pastor’s families are negatively impacted.

80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. 80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked and feel left out and under-appreciated by church members.

Many pastors are lonely.

70% do not have someone they consider a close friend and 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.

And then there is this:

50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years. 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form. And 4,000 new churches begin each year while 7,000 churches close.

These statistics are disheartening, but God is a God of healing, restoration, and renewal. John 21 shows us the story of Jesus coming to Peter. Three times He asks, “Do you love Me?” and three times Peter answers “Lord, You know that I love You.” And Jesus said, “Great! Glad we’ve got that cleared up. Off you go then…”  Nope, Jesus said “Feed My sheep.”

Jesus restored Peter to a place of authority within the kingdom because there was work to be done, and Peter was specifically called to do it. While there are folks who step into ministry with self-gain as their agenda, there are many more who do it because they have been specifically called. Even as tough as the pastorate can be, God called them to do something specific. He called them to “feed His sheep.”

This brings us back to my devotional time. Oswald Chambers says, “Jesus has some extraordinarily peculiar sheep: some that are unkempt or pushy, and some that have gone astray! But it is impossible to exhaust God’s love, and it is impossible to exhaust my love if it flows from the Spirit of God within me. The love of God pays no attention to my prejudices caused by my natural individuality. If I love my Lord, I have no business being guided by natural emotions – I have to feed His sheep. We will not be delivered or released from His commission to us.”

Dear pastors, if we are truly called by God to be His shepherds on earth, we must feed His sheep and allow Him to feed us.

Dear sheep, please pray for your shepherds. Encourage them. Love on them. Share your wisdom with them. If you step on each other, do your best to make it right together. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Trust that God has best intentions for both of you in mind.

Above all, LOVE!

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