I sat with a group of pastors recently and asked as I always do, “What’s your favorite part about shepherding?” Michael Brandt, now a pastor to pastors, exclaimed, “Finding lost sheep!” He’s not alone.
“And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’” (Luke 15:5-6)
Pastors aren’t the only ones who bring people to Christ, of course, but I think we experience that gift of God differently than others do. While any thoughtful Christian would rejoice to see someone put their faith in Christ, pastors see a sheep, once harassed and helpless, being brought safely into the fold, being carried home to the flock and to our care.
New believers don’t just meet Christ. They also meet Christ’s body. They become part of our flock, entrusted to us by Jesus, to guard, feed, and lead. When I could introduce a new believer to our congregation on a Sunday morning they’d applaud for joy and roll out the welcome mat. The same with baptisms, hearing and seeing that testimony of new birth. Plus, pastors know the special delight and benefit of having new believers in our congregations. They refresh us all in the gospel.
Most of my time as a pastor wasn’t with lost people so being around someone like Michael is good for me. He’s an evangelist/pastor who served many years in church planting. Pastors like him help me remember to “do the work of an evangelist,” as Paul charged us in 2 Tim. 4:5. I remember attending the crusades of Billy Graham or one of his associates and being struck with how good and invigorating it is simply to hear the gospel from a God-gifted evangelist and how wonderful to watch people coming to receive Christ.
Jesus said, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7)
I asked Michael what it is like for him to bring home a lost sheep. “Every time,” he said, “I reflect on the fact that I was rescued. It is one more time when I can express my genuine gratefulness for the mercy of God in my life.” He explained that his Christian parents had been heartsick over his lost condition. “I knew that when I got saved, there wasn’t any greater joy in my parents’ life than the joy of knowing their son was finally home.” When I asked what Scripture text was most significant to him, he quoted Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Michael said, “If the main Shepherd came to do that, maybe that’s what should be at the top of my list.”
In my life someone would occasionally come to Christ as a result of one of my sermons but I particularly remember the one-on-one times. It wasn’t so much joy that I felt as wonder. What astonishing thing had just happened in that quiet moment, in answer to those few, fumbling words of faith? Their sins were forgiven right there before my eyes! They were made new and joined the ranks of the Immortals! Usually there was a sacred silence, sort of breathless moment, maybe with tears. And to think that while we were so subdued there in my study the angels of heaven were singing over what had just transpired before my eyes.
Oh the stories we can tell! Thank God for that gift!
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.