I am a pastor and have held the shepherd’s crook for over 38 years now. Through four Canadian provinces and six flocks, I can assure you that the sheep are all pretty much the same. There are commonalities among us despite the variations of flock and face.
Over the decades, the people have not changed but the ministry has. There has been an undeniable pressure to adjust the model of church. We have morphed from a pastoral model to a design and language more apt for the world of business. Caring for an institution has overshadowed caring for souls. That shift has created methodologies marked by efficiency, growth rates, relevance, marketing, and measurable metrics. I would be foolish to argue that those values are useless in the Church. But I would be equally foolish to set them as criteria for what God’s flock is meant to be. There are more than enough voices debating the pros and cons of current ministry patterns in the North American evangelical church. I have read and researched my portion of books, seminars, and examples and have found both resolution and peace with the following image.
For a sizeable chunk of my ministry, I could be compared to a farmer overseeing an orchard. I was allotted a certain size field and was motivated to see that field blossom and expand. So, I mapped my plans for cultivation and growth. I thought carefully about the seed and planted with the latest techniques. I studied the cultural climate and fretted over society’s storms or drought. I tended to the machinery of the farm and employed best practice management to ensure smooth procedures. I recruited workers for the orchard and trained them for the harvest.
It seemed to be working except I found myself bound to the consequences of my efforts. When the field flourished, I felt great! When other seasons were empty of any discernible growth, I wondered what I was doing wrong. Frankly, the farmer pattern tired me from the inside out. I know it also fatigued many working in the field with me, but I thought that was the cost of cultivation. My language thus far has been in the past tense—because God did something to change me. In ways that could only be understood with hindsight God said to me, “Scott, stop being the farmer and just be a tree!”
Rather than being responsible for the sprouting of many trees, God called me to focus on the growth of my own soul. He forced my attention inward, to consider the sapless, barren, wooden state of my heart. God invited me to sink my roots deeply into Christ. He reminded me I didn’t have to do anything but “abide in Me as I abide in you.” I didn’t have to bear the burden of worry over the weather or come up with new agricultural techniques. I wasn’t responsible for the orchard—there was a divine Gardener tending His field. This way of ministry was new to me. The adjustment was not immediate and I wrestled with personal ambition and false guilt. I worried about my responsibility for the harvest and had to discern the harmony between initiative and waiting on God. Yet, my soul sighed with relief. I heard the sigh of relief from others as well. It felt like peace to surrender to the hands of the Vinedresser. If I were willing to remain in Him and welcome His pruning touch, He would produce within me fruit—much fruit—fruit that would remain. The fruit would expand beyond my own branches. God would produce more blossoms in the orchard by me being a tree than could ever happen if I remained the farmer.
I offer this not as compulsory upon all or as the ultimate definition of ministry. I whisper them to those who are worn by the experience of ministry with more activity than nurture. Frankly, there are a lot of us out there. I have lost count of the number of confessions entrusted to me that admit the hope of Christ’s easy yoke and light burden is yet to be found. They long to find rest for their souls. Not an eternal pampered cloud, but a rest received in the midst of kingdom service and life’s demands. Is that too much to expect? Jesus didn’t think so. So, here is my counsel. We must care for our souls. Let God be the Lord of His kingdom. Dwell deeply in the grace of God. Remember, He is the Saviour in the present tense. Pray that what we know of Jesus becomes our experience with Jesus. I wish someone had told me these things 38 years ago.