Practical Application of the Word of God
“And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, “Thus says the Lord God to the shepherds: ‘Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them.”
This section of scripture refers to God’s people, members of the body of Christ, the ekklesia as flocks of sheep that belong to the Shepherd (Jesus Christ) whose earthly care has been entrusted to human shepherds (pastors).
Before we dig into this section of scripture describing the failure of pastors to shepherd their flocks of sheep in imitation of and according to the way Jesus Christ shepherds the church and what these failures look like in practice, let’s first clear up a word that is used inaccurately and manipulatively by all religious organizations.
While most religious organizations use the term church to refer to their organization and/or denomination or to an actual building, the word used in the New Testament that is translated church is the Greek word ekklesia.
It does not refer to anything man-made or physical.
Instead it refers to the body of Christ, which like the temple that Solomon built and dedicated to God, cannot and is not contained within the artificial and man-made boundaries of any one or only one organizational construct.
If we believe that, then shame on us, because we’ve already limited God and brought Him down to our puny, physical level instead of recognizing and acknowledging about Him what Solomon recognized and acknowledged.
Nothing grates on my heart, soul, and mind more than hearing the phrase the church within the context of a single organizational construct because it is scripturally inaccurate (the accurate phrase would be “a congregation or an assembly of the church of God”).
It’s manipulative to the flock and it’s fundamentally dishonest before God and Jesus Christ.
So why does it occur?
I am not lambasting all individual pastors here. I think many pastors do it simply as part of the indoctrination of the organizational constructs and don’t even really think about. That’s drinking the Kool Aid.
However, because each of is responsible and accountable for our understanding and handling of the word of God (Ezekiel 34 also points out problems the flocks of sheep have), pastors are accountable for what they do or don’t do, even unconsciously or without thinking, within the context of Scripture.
Religious organizations, much like the Jewish religious sects of Jesus Christ’s day, demand loyalty to themselves, rather than loyalty to the word of God and Jesus Christ. In other words, the religious organizations supercede God’s word, Jesus Christ, and God Almighty Himself.
Why the push for this human loyalty to human constructs (nothing like the modern configurations is found in the pages of scripture) and human leaders?
Numbers and dollars.
Religious organizations desperately try to brand themselves as “it” and the misuse of the phrase the church is part of that branding process. It’s the same technique that advertisers use to get customer loyalty to product brands and for the same reason.
Loyalty means money. After all, someone has to pay all the overhead (brick and mortar operations, salaries, insurance, flights, gas allowances, living allowances, trips to organizational-sanctioned meetings, etc.), and if the flocks of sheep (customers) are loyal to the brand they are associated with (and this is reinforced by many pastors because they depend on the customers’ loyalty to get paid), they will buy everything (the product) that whichever religious organization they associate themselves with tells them.
The numbers game is another type of manipulation that religious organizational constructs engage in. This includes many unethical practices.
An example of this would be creating what is supposed to be an external-to-the-organization website for the public to have access to and then using it exclusively as an internal-to-the-organization website.
Congregants are urged to make this site their browser home page, to share its content, to access it a lot on a regular basis.
Pastors, who should be deeply-versed in the word of God, use the content of the website (remember, this was created for a theologically-uneducated public as a reference to basic biblical concepts, instructions, and doctrine – which, by the way, is the entirety of the Bible from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, not just a list of things a religious organization purports to be doctrine) as supplemental material for their sermons, instead of the word of God.
This is a technology numbers game. If the hits can be generated internally by all these methods, then the organization can proudly strut out “increases” to website traffic as if it’s all brand-new people God has led to their website, while most of the traffic is, in reality, from the flocks of sheep.
This is fundamentally dishonest and deceptive, and yet the flocks of sheep are none the wiser, being manipulated, unbeknownst to them, into playing the game.
I want to emphatically say that while this applies to many pastors (and to all religious organizations), it does not apply to all pastors.
I count among my close and dear friends, who are family to me, a few pastors (and their wives and families) for whom I know, because I have seen the fruit over many years, that their work as shepherds is a calling from God that they have answered. Period.
I’ve seen them go for extended periods through economic hardships to be faithful to God’s word, to Jesus Christ, and to God, while serving and protecting the flocks of sheep entrusted to their care. It’s not about the money for them.
However, these kinds of pastors are, sadly and unfortunately, few and far between in the religious organizational landscape.
But even some of them occasionally get caught up in the religious organizational culture, rhetoric, and mindset. I know they don’t realize it and I know it’s not what they would be doing if they realized that was what they were doing, but it doesn’t change the damage that can occur within the flocks of sheep from doing it.
And, at times, they can fall into the pervasive trap of mistreating and manipulating the flocks of sheep pastors are given the responsibility of caring for.
We’ve seen what manipulation looks like. What about mistreatment?
An example of mistreatment – probably not conscious, but it’s the religious organizational mindset – is ignoring – or, worse, not knowing – the actual circumstances of individual members of the flocks of sheep, making blanket “guilt” statements over and over to try to shame people into doing things that may be impossible for them to do.
An example of this would be chiding congregations over and over about attending services regularly (which if we are financially and physically able, we should do if at all possible) and attending every congregational activity no matter what, tying that into a reflection of spiritual condition and spiritual fate (which Jesus Christ alone decides).
For those within those flocks of sheep who financially or physically are not able to drive the often-long distances – in old cars that are getting less reliable by the day, so having car trouble would be an additional burden of expense, and that carry minimal insurance so if there is an accident, there would be no money to pay for another car – that attending services demands, this is abusive. It is most likely not intended to be, but it is.
The reality is that there are clusters of brethren that live closer to each other and could assemble together for services, but that erodes loyalty to the religious organizational constructs and may eliminate the need for a pastor if the in-person congregation numbers go too low, so it’s a money issue all the way around.
Another mistreatment of the flocks of sheep is just not being there, physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. I don’t know that the pastors who are “absent” are even aware that they’re absent, but the absence becomes a stumbling block for their congregations.
Part of this has to do with the structure of modern religious organizations (titles and roles that have been defined – inaccurately – by humans) being out of sync completely with the distinct gifts that Paul talks about in Romans 12.
The reality is that the gift of teaching and the gift of ministry are two distinct gifts. Not everyone has both. Yet in the modern concept of the function of a pastor, both gifts are assumed to be together in every person who serves as a pastor.
Sometimes they are, but more times they are not. Generally, the more of a minister (servant) a person is, the less of a teacher he is and the more of a teacher a person is, the less of a minister he is.
Some of this is personality, some of it is temperament, and some of it is because God made a distinction between the gifts for a reason.
I personally believe, based on what I read of the New Testament church that the gifts are spread out through the congregation where everyone is intended to labor together as equal siblings in the family of God, but modern religious organizations have rejected that completely in favor of an “us” (a hierarchy of “special” and “exalted-above-their-brethren” people) and “them” (the flocks of sheep) structure.
And here’s the thing.
If the expectation were not planted in the flocks of sheep for the combination of both in one person, this would not be a problem. They wouldn’t expect it all from the pastor, and would take the responsibility upon themselves (which it actually is on us to learn, know, and live the word of God, with the help of God’s spirit – we can’t rely on anyone else to do this or provide this for us).
But because the flocks of sheep have been more controlled than led, many expect both a minister and a teacher from their pastors because that’s what they’ve been programmed to expect.
Because of this manipulation, the flocks of sheep end up being mistreated either in being taught or being served when most pastors have only one of these gifts, not both.
I have highlighted just a few of the ways that Ezekiel 34:1-6 is true among the shepherds and the flocks of sheep entrusted by Jesus Christ to their care have been mistreated and manipulated.
That’s the reality we all live with.
But, having said all of this, here’s the other reality we all live with and the one that we need to take to heart and do something continually about.
Each of us individually will answer for our lives to Jesus Christ. None of us will be able to point to someone else or something else as a reason we did or didn’t do something because the bottom line for Jesus Christ has always been, is, and will always be “what did I tell you to do?”
If God’s word is not the foundation upon which every breath, every attitude, every motive, every thought, every word, every action – our entire being and character (who we are) – we take and do is based on, then we’re people who have built our houses on sand.
Everything must be able to stand up to the filter of God’s word, without spin, with transparence, completely within context. If it doesn’t, then that must be rejected in favor of what God says. Period.
If that’s not our standard, then we are not taking the responsibility for doing the work of converting that God has called us to do.
And if we, at Christ’s return, have only human words and ideas implanted in us instead of God’s words and only human rules and regulations instead of the law and words of God written in our hearts, then we have neglected our responsibility and we have no one to blame but ourselves.
There is no time like today to commit ourselves to fulfilling the responsibility we have. Even if we are the only ones doing it.
This is not a public action, but in fact a deeply spiritual, private, and intimate matter with God and Jesus Christ.
Because of that, we should prayerfully commit to and undertake our responsibility in a manner that reflects that kind of relationship with our Dad and our Older Brother, ensuring that their names are not profaned or dishonored by our conduct.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how right we are if we end up dissing God and Jesus Christ in the process. That is wisdom.
Ask and you shall receive.