Seven years ago, I was in Cyprus (Cyprus!), teaching a class on video to be translated for a Russian seminary. On Sunday my wife and I found an international evangelical church in Limassol. It was small—fewer than 50 people. One couple were Syrian refugees. A few Filipino women led the singing. As it happened, four pastors were there that morning. The pastor of the church was of Indian descent but from Great Britain. Another was an Irish missionary to the Middle East. The third was a French Navy chaplain from Madagascar. And me, raised in a rural church in South Dakota, where everyone was white and a farmer.
When Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd,” he went on to say,
I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. (John 10:16)
Who of us hasn’t marveled at the kinship we feel almost immediately upon meeting fellow believers from some faraway place? Added to that, pastors share a particularly special bond when we meet. How the Lord accomplished this is a flat-out miracle!
As his under-shepherds, Jesus brings some of his “other sheep” to the sheep pen he’s given to us. What stories we can tell of lost sheep found! Our congregations, big or small, bear testimony to the far-reaching grace of the Good Shepherd.
Yet, as every pastor knows, the “one flock” miracle doesn’t happen without difficulties.
To live above with saints we love,
Oh, that will be glory.
To live below with saints we know,
Well, that’s another story.
“Other sheep” sounds great, but folks don’t always take well to people different from themselves. Shoot! We have trouble enough with people who are just like us! To live together as “one flock” Jesus and his Apostles often reiterated and explained his command, “love one another.” But he suited his people for these counterintuitive flock dynamics by binding us together in profound ways:
There is one body and one Spirit … one hope … one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4:4-5)
Our work as shepherds is to build our congregations through those extraordinary bonds “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature ….” Every pastor faces times of dysfunction, but we also know the joy when God’s people dwell together in unity!
Imagine if we could go to a high mountain and survey all that Jesus’ promise of “one flock and one shepherd” has meant: the three thousand converts on Pentecost, the three routes of Paul’s journeys webbing out into the countless missionary inroads throughout all the world, the graves of martyrs, congregations large and small bent to prayer and singing the songs of Zion, preachers holding out their Bibles along with the bread and wine. We see the grim setbacks, too. Vicious conflicts, inexcusable prejudices, heresies, and dreadful wolves.
But, oh, the wonders of Christ’s grace! The salvation miracles as, one by one, people bowed to Christ and were washed clean, believers becoming Jesus’ hands and feet in this world, and the millions of saints who have stepped safely through their graves into life everlasting! And look! There, off in the distance …
… a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb … [and] the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd … (Rev. 7:9, 17)
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.