Congregations, regardless of size, are heavy. Not just heavy like a big job. Heavy like carrying a screaming three-year-old in one arm and a sleeping infant in the other. From the store to the car. At the back of the parking lot. In the rain. And you can’t find your keys.
When rabble among the Israelites began to crave food other than manna it wasn’t long before “Moses heard the people of every family wailing. The Lord became exceedingly angry and Moses was troubled.” I’ve had bad days but that takes the cake! Listen in as our fellow shepherd bellowed his prayer:
Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? … If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin. (Num. 11:11-15)
You don’t have to shepherd such a miserable rabble of ingrates to know the weight of God’s children. Once, while waiting for an Elder Board meeting, I went through our church directory, jotting down a list of maybe thirty people about whom I was concerned. A troubled marriage. A woman long absent from church. A young believer. An elderly man in failing health. A family considering a move. Nary a rabble-rouser among them. When I read through the list, one of the Elders said, “Lee, you can’t worry about all these people.” I was taken aback. “I’m not worried,” I said, “but these are my people. This is what pastors think about.”
Why does God expect us to carry his people like a nursemaid? Well, because God loves them, that’s why. Of course he doesn’t need us, but in the wisdom of his love for his people he gives them shepherds as surely as he gives parents to children. Paul told the Thessalonians he had come to them like both a mother and a father. Among the qualifications for church leadership is managing one’s own household well because church life closely resembles a challenging family.
In answer to Pastor Moses’ cry, the Lord told him to identify seventy elders. “I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them,” God said. “They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.”
Last Sunday as my pastor preached I thought about the burdens I know he carries—a dicey conflict, a heartbreaking death, the myriad complexities of a recently merged congregation. But sitting throughout the congregation I saw wise, supportive, and prayerful co-laborers whom God has brought alongside him. God has done that for you, too, even when the weight is heavy.
Mercifully, God didn’t do Moses the favor of killing him. Most of the time, God won’t allow his pastor-parents to give up their babysitting duties. But he will fortify you. He will give you Spirit-equipped coworkers. He will help you fan into flame the gifts he has given you. He will help you mount up on eagles’ wings. He will kindle your love for the people he has redeemed. So “be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be.”
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He is the author of Feels Like Home: How Rediscovering the Church as Family Changes Everything and Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls (Moody Publishers), as well as being a frequent contributor to Preaching Today and CT Pastors. To learn more about his Pastors' Gatherings visit www.leeeclov.com.