Thinking about a church shepherd’s First Instincts . . . when he hears about someone struggling with cutting, skin-picking, addictions, emotional support animals, all manner of sexuality issues and every trouble under the sun. What’s the shepherd’s instinctual response? If his first response looks to psychiatry and medications and the like, then he’s doing it wrong. His thinking ignores a core tenet of good shepherding. That is, What is the person’s spiritual condition? What does the Lord think? What does the Lord say in His Word? Those questions get to the nub of problems and will give the person a path to freedom and healing.
As obvious as that should be, some shepherds lean immediately into the world’s looseness or the world’s solutions. Or they’re fighting a frustrating battle within the congregation that thinks of the church and the shepherds as after-thoughts or add-ons to life. In this mind-set, the church and the Scriptures are fine on the fringes of things, but that’s all. There’s a refusal to lean into the Scriptures, a refusal to look to the Lord and His church as first-line leaders in life’s battles. And often, when they do consider looking that way, they reject godly counsel because it’s difficult or contrary to the praised practices of the godless.
Shepherds laboring in churches in the FiveStone network frequently face this fight, both inside and outside the church. A woman I’ve known casually for several years told me about her 20-year-old step-daughter who’s 50 pounds overweight, studies psychology at a secular university, refuses to work to help pay her own way, picks the skin and flesh off of her back (and then flicks the pickings from her fingers while she’s eating dinner with the family). She demands that her parents buy her an emotional support animal (a bearded dragon lizard). I don’t know what to do! the woman told me. Does this kid need a psychiatrist or does she need to be medicated or what?
I thought, That girl’s got problems. But I did not instinctively assume that she needed a psychiatrist and medication. The woman sharing her story knows what I believe and what I do in ministry. We’ve discussed it in the past. As I listened to her, I prayed, Lord, what am I supposed to say here? Not, ‘You need Jesus and your daughter needs Jesus.’ She already knows that I think that. So, I said, Is your daughter a spiritually-minded person? Of course not. Her daughter is not the least bit spiritually-minded. Even so, the question led to a discussion about Jesus and His Word and the guidance and comfort that comes from knowing Him and following His Scriptures. Afterward, I had no hint that she was going to heed anything I offered, but at least she heard the offer.
With that as one of many examples of living in a post-Christian, psychologized and medicated culture, a handful of prime shepherding tenets forge a path to leading the church to strength:
- the gospel of Christ is central to life, for the person who does not know Christ and for the person who knows Him; salvation in Christ and knowing the care He has for His children is key to living in confident wisdom;
- the Scriptures are core to all aspects of the Christian life;
- focus on Him leads to delight in Him;
- teach the church to pursue the Lord in a long obedience in the same direction;
- serve the Word to the church and help the people feed themselves on the Word;
- meditate on the Word, His attributes and character, leaning into His Spirit to strengthen, guide, protect, vindicate;
- the Scriptures are deeply practical; present the clear implications and applications of the Word, teaching people how to live well and bear up under pressure.
Lucas O’Neill, senior pastor of FiveStone partner—Christian Fellowship Church—has well-preached those tenets from Psalm 119:161-168. Several key quotes: Comfort comes from God’s Word. The truths of the Bible are treasure . . . you need to relentlessly pursue its truths. Peace in the face of pain is the fruit for those who love God’s words and love His instruction. Vindication comes to the person who pursues and obeys the Lord.