This week Graham gave us his penultimate sermon as our pastor. He spoke about what we can expect from our new pastor and the vision that he may bring to our church community. Prayer is essential to the future of our church and Graham encourages us to pray about the transition and how Jesus will build his church. You can listen again to the sermon here:
What is the Church?
We did a preaching series here not so long ago on the subject of the church. The reason I am preaching something on this topic again as because of where we are with me retiring and a new pastor to be appointed. Last week I spoke about what a pastor is in Elim and what that means for this church and the new pastor. I spoke of the “angel” of the church mentioned in the letters from the resurrected Jesus Christ to the churches featured early in the Revelation of John. I spoke about the special appointment of the one who leads a church. Today I want to talk about the church, the flock.
When talking about a church leaders role pastoral language is used, the language of shepherding. If we are not careful we will draw the conclusion that church members are sheep. This is not so.
Teaching in scripture concerning the duties of the shepherd and concerning the Good Shepherd speak to us about that role of faithfulness and care.
See Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
King Saul was to be a shepherd to the nation of Israel. 2 Samuel 5:2
In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the Lord said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.’”
Through a prophet God spoke to a king declaring that the nation at that time was like a flock of sheep without a shepherd.
2 Chronicles 18:15-17
15 But the king said to him, “How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” 16 And he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace.’”
Psalm 80 speaks of God as the great shepherd
1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.
In the New Testament Jesus is presented as the perfect shepherd of God’s people, coming at time when the nation was without a shepherd.
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
But there is very little in all that teaching that applies to the people led by a shepherd. They hear his voice (John 10), but we should note that this metaphor of shepherd and sheep is to teach about the leader not the follower.
The metaphor falls down if we start thinking of ourselves as sheep, as sheep are stupid, fearful, parasite ridden and passive. What should we note about the followers then, and in our case the church?
Church – Purpose
We must start with the mission, keep the mission always in our minds. We pray “Thy Kingdom come!”
I think we all, too often, think of the purpose of the church as beginning with us. It should begin with our greater context and our greater purpose. After all, how many believers moving to a new city look for a church thinking of their preferences about what they like, rather that an army to join, a work to serve in, a cause to live for?
The new pastor could bring new sense purpose.
In welcoming a new pastor you may wonder what this church will become. Perhaps it would be better to think about what this church may end up doing under that leadership. We should regularly ask ourselves what we are for in our location, in our context. Perhaps the new leader will introduce us to what we may be for, in this city, in this new season. Pray for change. Expect change. That is what I will pray for. I am not ashamed of what I have accomplished in this church over the years but I don’t want the person following me to continue the past, I want them to build something new.
A church is supposed to have an effect upon the world outside their walls.
The new pastor could bring a new sense of purpose but will also have the task of proclaiming our unchanged purposes.
1 Peter 2:1
1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
The new pastor could bring a new equipping for purpose.
The new pastor is supposed to tend and feed the sheep. That means equipping, and equipping for purpose. We are like a light on a hill. We a like an infection. We make a difference, as I preached recently, we influence because we know we carry the values of the Kingdom.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Yes but do we really influence for the good? The Christian employee who is always late for work is not carrying the values of the Kingdom. The Christian friend who can not keep a confidence is not carrying the values of the Kingdom. What of the one who steals from others, who is not truthful, who quickly loses theri temper, who is unloving, these are not carrying the values of the Kingdom?
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
The new pastor may call for new sacrifice for the great purpose.
We are willing to make sacrifices as a church for the sake of our greater purpose and mission.
I remember a conversation I had with someone many years ago who spoke to me about their church and their love of how it was, and how they did not want things to change. In reply I spoke about their purpose (which I think they had forgotten) and what Jesus would think of their reluctance to change. What Jesus would think of their reluctance to change. Their reluctance to change meant their church would eventually die out.
Being different, other, which is what holiness is, means sacrifice and denial of ourselves.
1 Peter 1:13-16
13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
If my successor did not want to build on what he or she finds on arrival we would have cause to worry. And to build means to change things. Remember, you want new people to take over your church.
[illustration of church in Isle of Man in community hall and the church in the valley. their hope for a future was of the new people would eventually take over]
In this church the new people have taken over this church that I was entrusted with in the summer of 1999. Without that, none of us would be worshipping in this church for it would have ceased to exist.
One area that this church is not challenged in, I think, is in the ministry of financial management and generosity. By that I mean that because we have an income from our property in the city centre we do not have the financial challenge that most churches have. We seem to have enough money to chug along. But is the giving, along with our property income, enough to purchase a new building should we find one? Is in enough to take us beyond maintenance and into city transformation?
I am trying to be careful. I do not want to sound as though I am writing the job description of my successor. I just want to get you ready for change, for building something new.
The new leader may be a shepherd but you are all more than sheep.
- Pray for the right appointment
- An appointment like this is like an arranged marriage. Both sides need your prayers for wisdom and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.
- Pray for yourselves, this present fellowship. You should desire the new people who will be added to this church, even if they do take it over.