Ezekiel 34 is my go-to passage of scripture when I think about spiritual leadership. I like the Message Version verses 1-6,
God's Message came to me: "Son of man prophesy against the shepherd-leaders of Israel. Yes, prophesy! Tell those shepherds, "God, the Master, says: Doom to you shepherds of Israel, feeding your own mouths! Aren't shepherds supposed to feed sheep? You drink the milk, you make clothes from the wool, you roast the lambs, but you don't feed the sheep. You don't build up the weak ones, don't heal the sick, don't doctor the injured, don't go after the strays, don't look for the lost. You bully and badger them. And now they're scattered every which way because there was no shepherd- scattered and easy pickings for wolves and coyotes. Scattered-my sheep!- exposed and vulnerable across mountains and hills. My sheep scattered all over the world, and no one out looking for them!
God's message to Ezekiel spells out the role of spiritual leaders; feed the sheep, build up the weak, heal the sick, doctor the injured, go after the strays, look for the lost.
When spiritual leaders who are also disciples fail to feed the sheep, build up the weak ones, heal the sick, doctor the injured, go after the strays and look for the lost, those who are a part of the flock scatter, and they fall prey to the wolves.
The wolves are leaders whose agenda is their own and who use the “sheep” to elevate themselves rather than become a co laborer with them for the purpose of being an expression of God’s love in the world for the glory of God.
I am hearing horror stories from people who are scattered, they are struggling to find churches where they feel safe and cared for when they are hungry, weak, sick, injured, have gone astray, and are lost. Many have experienced spiritual abuse and although they will not leave God, they contemplate every Sunday morning whether they will even return to “a” four wall church.
For them, the safest church is a church they can attend thru the various online platforms. In doing so, they can fall prey to itching ears trying to find messages that speak only to what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear.
Being away from a faith community dulls spiritual discernment and opens the door for the wolf to come in and devour those who are scattered.
As spiritual leaders we must take a pause daily and ask God to reveal to us to whom we are being invited to shepherd the disciples and the unchurched. We can ask ourselves these questions:
1. Who needs to be fed?
2. Who needs to be built up?
3. Who needs to be healed from their sickness?
4. Who is injured?
5. Who has strayed?
6. Who is lost?
Then change the who to how? In doing so it will help you to be more sensitive to the Spirit's guidance.
How do we get the answers to these questions? We must have conversations. We must practice the art of listening (this happens when we listen to understand first, not to share what we know), and we must be willing to be transparent with our own stories. Through those conversations the Spirit will reveal to us what the person needs. Then exchange contact info. Make yourself available for phone calls, texts, coffee, lunch. This is shepherding. THEN check in with those people and see how they are doing. This is the call of spiritual leadership. Have you ever experienced a time when someone sent you a text and just said, "Checking in with you, how are things going?" How did it make you feel? It's one of the most loving and compassionate things we can do.
We may not be the ones to meet the needs, however as leaders we should know where we can take someone to get their needs met, or who we can take them to for their needs to be met. But we should always be a connection for that person.
When we as spiritual leaders are caring for the hungry, the weak, the sick, the injured, those who have strayed and the lost we are being disciples. We are caring for disciples and we are caring for those who have not yet received this incredible gift of grace. This is also discipleship.
When we are doing this well, those who are a part of the faith communities where we lead don’t scatter, and those who need a safe place to grow will return, grow, and become disciples who care for others.
Let’s look for the scattered, some are inside and outside of the four walled church. We can do it..together!