Shepherding From a Distance
My church, like most churches, is not currently gathering due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I have seen multiple social media posts noting that THE Church is not a building but the people that follow Jesus. True.
Therefore, thanks to the pandemic, the Church is finally outside the walls where it can do some good. Agreed. No virus can stifle God’s working. However, as a pastor, I am struggling to minister to my church family in this environment.
Since I am working mainly from home now, I love having extra time with my family. However, when it comes to ministering to my church family, I feel like I am behind prison bars. How do I shepherd the sheep without gathering them together in the fold? The pandemic limits me.
A thought occurred to me this morning, though. This confinement is nothing new. From Old Testament prophets to Paul in the New Testament and Chinese pastors today, circumstances have consistently forced God’s ministers to find creative ways to accomplish God’s mission.
While Paul was in a Roman prison, he expressed his longing to be with his church family and his expectation that it would soon happen (Phil. 1:18, 25). Separation from the people he loved was his regular experience, and each time, Paul committed them to God’s care (Acts 20:32). He was confident that God would protect the believers, and that trumped his anxiety over their future. I echo Paul’s hope!
I can also learn from Paul’s example. Rather than gripe about the obstacles in his way, Paul served those within reach. That effort brought new lambs into the fold (Phil. 1:13; 4:22). To lead the rest of his flock, he used the written word since the spoken word was unavailable. Paul wrote or dictated at least four of his 14 New Testament books while in prison. He refused to allow his bars to inhibit his ministry. We greatly benefit from that choice today.
Past shepherds, like Paul, would have drooled over the ministry tools immediately accessible to me; how Paul would have loved social media, cell phones, and downloadable meeting apps! I doubt he would have allowed his lack of techno familiarity to stop him from venturing into these new means of ministry.
So, rather than permitting these bars to prevent me from shepherding, I will use the tools within my reach to touch the people I feel are so far from me. My sheep will still hear me even if my voice sounds a little tinny. There will be a learning curve, some trial and error, and some misses. Granted. This experiment will be a step of faith, but it is faith that pleases God and brings His blessing.
Therefore, using these methods, I can still effectively shepherd from a distance. For that, I am thankful!
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