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Shepherding Jesus' Lambs From a Distance

Stephen Tracey

During these strange and troubled days faithful pastors are doing what they can to shepherd Jesus' lambs from a distance. It is not easy. All our pastoral "spidey senses" are tingling. We are having to adapt our worship services and our pastoral practices. At first I thought this would be a less pressured time, but I have found there is more pressure than normal. We want to be sure all Christ's flock is spiritually safe. What is a Pastor to do?

1. Take care of yourself.

Hyper-vigilance can only be sustained for a short time. I fear that many pastors are going to burn out with exhaustion. Our work schedule has changed and it is easy to forget to rest. If we keep going without refreshing ourselves in Jesus, we will soon be like Elijah, thinking he alone was left and needing simply to sleep. Remember, the word of God says, "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers." (1 Timothy 4:16, ESV).

2. Feed the flock.

Make sure the word of God is falling on them as often as you are able to let the word loose. For my part, I prepare a daily devotional on a Psalm and email it daily, Monday to Friday to all our families. I spend time late morning, early afternoon phoning folk, and I prepare a message that is videotaped and posted online for Sunday. Our primary calling is to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season…" (2 Timothy 4:2, ESV). This is certainly an "out of season" time.

3. Choose your texts well.

This is the time to encourage the flock, to keep them from being discouraged and losing heart. So make sure the focus of your ministry is on Jesus Christ and his love. Focus on the Father of all comforts. Focus on the comfort of the Holy Spirit. We may come back to other things after this out-of-season time has passed.

4. Pray, Pray, Pray.

Remember that is what godly pastors do, "We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." (Acts 6:4, ESV). Prayer is no little thing you do for your flock. Schedule a time each day to pray for them by name. Work through the list of contacts. Pray through your flock.

5. Keep reaching out.

Like everyone else, we have increased burdens of our own to bear. The temptation may be to withdraw into isolation. Sometimes you may just speak a word in season, and in God’s good grace we know "a word in season, how good it is!" (Proverbs 15:23 ESV). I encourage you to particularly reach out families impacted by disabilities. Speak to both mum and dad. When you call on the phone, if it is not a one parent family, try to speak to both mum and dad. One may be weathering this storm, but the other may be slowly losing it.

6. Listen.

Don't think that you know best. What does this family say they need? Maybe they have transitioned well, and in fact for some, life may be a little easier. There is more control, fewer flash-points of contact. Do not disturb that balance by rushing in to pastor. On the other hand, maybe they clearly let you know they are struggling. The loss of routine, the loss of support people and services has been too much. Behavioral issues are escalating. Ask the family what would help. "Let every person (and especially pastors) be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger," (James 1:19, ESV). "If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame." (Proverbs 18:13-ESV)

7. Be practical.

Use your deacon's fund to help people. Maybe a family is still waiting on a check? A $300 grocery store or Walmart gift card will provide immediate help. Maybe they need a mortgage payment? Or maybe now is the time to donate the supplies and build that sandlot in a family's yard? There are probably men and women in your congregation itching to do just such a project. "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith." (Galatians 6:10, ESV)

8. Turn up.

Call ahead, put your mask on, stay the required distance away, and bring their favorite food, or something else that you know that person loves. My Aunt Greta (who had Down Syndrome) loved the Royal family. She spent hours cutting out photographs from magazines, then arranging and rearranging them. A new stock of magazines was always helpful. If you know what that kid likes, and can get it at Walmart, then take a gift. Or have it sent from Amazon. The heart of a pastor shares the same yearning as the Apostle Paul, "We pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith." (1 Thessalonians 3:10, ESV).

9. Be patient.

Help everyone to be patient. Waiting is not easy. We are not good at it. Yet waiting on the Lord is the essence of faith in troubled times. "Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!" (Psalm 27:14, ESV).

10. Keep believing the good news that Jesus Christ loves us and has given himself for us.

That is our only comfort in life or death. That good news is for all. Believe it yourself. Fix your joy and the joy of your flock in God, our strength. And sing.

Sing with Habakkuk,

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places.
Habakkuk 3:17–19 (ESV)

The author is Pastor of Lakeview Presbyterian Church, Rockport, ME.

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